Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Arsenic and Clam Chowder

Arsenic and Clam Chowder: Murder in Gilded Age New York (Excelsior Editions)Arsenic and Clam Chowder by James D. Livingston is a fascinating look at murder in Gilded Age New York. Mary Alice Livingston (a distant cousin of the author) was arrested in 1895 for sending her ten-year-old daughter Grace to deliver an pail of arsenic laced clam chowder to her mother Evelina Bliss in order to gain access to her inheritance. As Evelina suffered a grotesque and painful death, she informed the doctor that she was poisoned by a relative for money. The ensuing investigation and  trial would put capital punishment for women and reasonable doubt on trial for the world to see, while competing newspapers the World and Journal  wrote eloquent stories about her four illegitimate children from three different fathers. The author lays the case against Mary Alice well and captures the heightened tensions in New York City that surrounded the trial. These were the days that were filled with "trials of the century" when female poisoners haunted Victorian imaginations. I love true crime books based in this period, and this book is thoroughly enjoyable and interesting. The author finishes up with a discussion on how reasonable doubt affected this trial and how it works today. My only quibble would be that in one of the pictures included in the center of the book, the author gives away the outcome of the trial. That's a small complaint however. The images included truly help the reader to see the main characters more clearly, and the historical details he adds also bring this era to life. I look forward to reading more from this author in the future.

Thank you to PR by the Book for providing me with a copy of this book for review!


Cheryl said...

Thanks for reviewing Jim's book. I'm glad you enjoyed it.