115. Fatal

Fatal: The Poisonous Life of a Female Serial Killer by Harold Schechter

Pages: 305
Finished: June 27, 2008
First Published: 2003
Genre: True Crime
Rating: 4/5

Reason for Reading: I am especially interested in Victorian Crime, though I enjoy reading any true crime cases that take place from the early 1800s to the 1950s.

First sentence:

Exactly what transpired on that long-ago day when Edward Struck lost his jobin disgrace will never be fully known.

Comments: The book first starts out telling the events of a couple of different cases of female poisoners in the mid 1800s before starting on the case of Jane Toppan. Jane Toppan was the most horrendous "poison-fiend" that America had ever seen. Earlier cases had caused sensation but they were nothing compared with the revelations in the court of 1902 by Jane Toppan. In the late 1800s Miss Toppan embarked on her matronly profession as a nurse first working in public, then private hospitals and finally onto working on location for the wealthy in their homes. Over this period of time she is credited with over 30 murders by poisoning. The case has everything to appeal to the Victorians' delight in scandal: sex, madness, and a sweet lady often nick-named "Jolly Jane".

A wonderfully written book that reads like a novel with plenty of excerpts from contemporary material such as letters, newspapers, medical records, and trial transcripts. What I especially love about this book (and other books of true crimes of this period), is that not only is it a tale of a crime but it is also a vivid portrait of both social and political conditions of the times. In this book the reader is given insight into late 1800s American nursing, orphanages, patient care, medical procedures, common diseases, medicines, poisons, police procedures, newspaper reporting, trial procedures and the legal system. This book will be sure to please any fan of historical crime, or even historical murder mysteries. I thoroughly enjoyed it. The author has written many other historical true crime books (and a few novels) and I will most definitely be reading more of his work.

P.S. Please help me out with suggestions of documentary TV Shows suitable for kids in my post here. Thanks!


  1. Ohhhh...I don't normally like True Crime, but this sounds really good! I may have to see if I can this at the library.


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