Books in Scientia – Molecules of Murder

molecules of murder

Title and author

Molecules of Murder: Criminal Molecules and Classic Cases by John Emsley

What’s it about?

A number of case studies of murders carried out with natural and synthetic poisons. Major cases covered range from recent (Alexander Litvinenko, 2006), to well over a century old (Thomas Bartlett, 1886).

What are the good bits?

Many of the cases in this book will be familiar to readers, poisoning murders are quite rare so they often receive a lot of media coverage. However, Emsley covers the cases in a surprising level of detail, and I certainly learned new things even about the cases I’d read about before.

There is also a nice glossary with chemical terms and structures which I suspect would be very helpful for the non-chemist reader, though I confess I did not need to use this more than once or twice. Apart from the technical terms, the book is written in very clear language.

What are the not-so-good bits?

There’s nothing that’s not good about this book. It was interesting and informative, but it didn’t get me all fired up and passionate about chemistry like some other pop-chem books have.

What does it say on p193 line 19?

the consultant instructed that the blood and urine samples should be urgent sent for analysis…this was not carried out…and when the mistake was realised, they covered it up by saying that…the results had come back negative

Emsley recounts an error made by hospital staff in one of the murder cases. It brought to mind the case of Annie Dookhan, the chemist who was recently jailed for altering and falsifying forensic drug analyses. I wonder if any murders were missed or falsely confirmed due to her tampering?

Who should read it?

Those interested poisonings, toxicology or even crime fiction fans who might want a little foray into real crime.

How good is it?

Reasonably. Not the most exciting book you’ll ever read, despite the number of murders, but interesting and a worthwhile read nonetheless.

3.5 funnels out of 5

murder stars



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