Monday, August 28, 2017

Review: A Beautiful Poison by Lydia Kang

Title: A Beautiful Poison
Author: Lydia Kang
Published: August 2017, Lake Union Publishing
Format: ARC Paperback, 350 pages
Source: Publisher

Just beyond the Gilded Age, in the mist-covered streets of New York, the deadly Spanish influenza ripples through the city. But with so many victims in her close circle, young socialite Allene questions if the flu is really to blame. All appear to have been poisoned—and every death was accompanied by a mysterious note.

Desperate for answers and dreading her own engagement to a wealthy gentleman, Allene returns to her passion for scientific discovery and recruits her long-lost friends, Jasper and Birdie, for help. The investigation brings her closer to Jasper, an apprentice medical examiner at Bellevue Hospital who still holds her heart, and offers the delicate Birdie a last-ditch chance to find a safe haven before her fragile health fails.

As more of their friends and family die, alliances shift, lives become entangled, and the three begin to suspect everyone—even each other. As they race to find the culprit, Allene, Birdie, and Jasper must once again trust each other, before one of them becomes the next victim.

My thoughts: This is the first book I've read by Lydia Kang and I really enjoyed it. I wasn't sure what to expect...but when I saw the setting was New York City just after the Gilded Age, I knew I wanted to read it - and what a great story it was!

This book hooked me from the start and kept me on my toes the entire time! It is an engaging murder mystery, told from three great narrators - Allene, Jasper and Birdie. Each of these three were well-drawn and complex characters and I was fascinated by all three, though Birdie was my favorite!

I loved not only the historical detail that is included in this book, but also the scientific and forensic detail that Lydia Kang weaves into her tale. Set against the backdrop of WWI and the Spanish Influenza in NYC, you have young men worried about being called up for the draft while the rest of the city worries about falling ill to the spreading of the horrible illness. But it is the chemistry and pathology that really bring this story to life. And let me just stop here to say - the story doesn't get bogged down in detail here, but rather, it is a fascinating look at these fields as they were at that time.

I also loved that we really got to see both Jasper and Birdie at their respective jobs. This was quite interesting. Jasper worked in the morgue and while those scenes where he was at work, especially working on the victims they were investigating, were a bit creepy, it was also quite fascinating. Knowing that Lydia Kang herself was a physician, who incidentally worked at Bellevue like Jasper, I found these details all the more interesting! And Birdie worked at the clock factory where she painted radium on the dials of faces of watches for the soldiers. Having recently picked up Radium Girls by Kate Moore, I am even more eager to read it after reading this bit about Birdie and what happened to her!

I think what makes this book really shine was the way all the different parts came together cohesively to tell one story - the murder mystery, the bits of science and how radium poisoning really was killing these young women. Plus you had really engaging characters, with plenty of twists and turns as far as the mystery itself went. I found myself wavering as to who I thought was behind the deaths, thinking I kept figuring it out, only to find I was wrong time and time again! This is a relatively quick read and I really enjoyed it. 


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1 comment

  1. The setting is unusual and one which I know very little about. Sounds good.

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