Lydia Kang’s ‘A Beautiful Poison’ is a Brilliant Historical Mystery


With the chill of October just around the corner, it’s time for more murder mysteries. If you’re looking for something that makes scientific sense while being set against a historical setting, Lydia Kang’s fiction is a great place to start. A Beautiful Poison centers on Allene Cutter is a beautiful and vapid society girl about to be married. At her engagement party, the merriment is disrupted when another well-born girl falls to her death on the grand staircase. While her father pays off the local authorities to close the incident quickly, some suspect foul play.  Recently reunited with two of her working class former friends, Birdie and Jasper, Allene decides that  this murder mystery is just the thing to keep her out of the boredom she feels lost in. Allene soon learns that her former friends are living a rougher existence than she ever could have imagined behind the walls of her estate. What follows is a murder mystery set against the backdrop of gilded society, the Spanish Influenza, and the horror of the war draft.

Author Lydia Kang uses her knowledge as a doctor to infuse the book with realistic chemistry, anatomical, and pandemic knowledge. It becomes very clear quite quickly that one of the characters is suffering from radium poisoning from her position in a watch factory where she works as a painter.  One character has cursory knowledge of chemistry and explosions. Another is able to assist with, and later conduct, autopsies.

A Beautiful Poison does an excellent job of keeping readers guessing until the end. Kang has an ability to pull readers along, creating both a strong desire to see the characters succeed, but also with a few sentences to turn us against the same characters we were originally rooting for. Don’t be surprised if characters you loathe in the beginning turn out to be some of your favorites, and those you adored frustrate you in the end.

A Beautiful Poison is an excellent read as we ease into autumn.


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