I love the title of this book. It reminds me of Halestorm's amazing ballad, Familiar Taste of Poison, and if this book ever gets picked up to become a Netflix series, that would be an amazing opening credits song. A BEAUTIFUL POISON is also a great story. I'm slowly but surely becoming obsessed with Lydia Kang, who works as a doctor when she's not penning original fiction. They say that authors should write what they know, and Kang follows that old adage to magnificent effect, using her medical knowledge to add credibility and detail to her historical works.
Her other historical fiction book is called THE IMPOSSIBLE GIRL, which is about a grave-robber who has a second heart. She's also written a book of medical nonfiction with author Nate Pedersen called QUACKERY, which is about bunk medicine throughout the ages, and honestly, it takes a lot of confidence for a doctor to write a history book of all the times medicine screwed up, so major kudos to her for doing so - and in such a funny way.
Lest I start sounding like too much of a shill (#NotSponsored), I want to dive in to the book itself, A BEAUTIFUL POISON, and what it's about. The book starts out with a murder of a bitchy socialite named Florence. The murder happens at the party of another socialite named Allene, a self-centered girl who is interested in chemistry. Her two friends, Birdie and Jasper, are at the party as well, and while her father is determined to cover the incident up, Jasper recognizes the burnt almond smell of the corpse as belonging to cyanide, because his parents used that poison in their own double-suicide.
Pretty soon, other people start dying as well. A BEAUTIFUL POISON is set during the time of World War I, and part of these deaths are the result of the Spanish flu, but cyanide, arsenic, and wood alcohol are also the culprits in some of these murders, and those close to Allene, Birdie, and Jasper seem to be the targets. In typical young adult fashion, they decide to investigate themselves rather than involve the authorities, because obstruction is just another fancy word for DIY.
A BEAUTIFUL POISON is a very dark book and not an easy one to read. The medical knowledge can be fairly dense and the characters are not likable, especially Allene, who can be cold and callous. No one in this book is happy, either. Allene is engaged to a boy she doesn't like and appears to be coded as bisexual, as her friendship with both Jasper and Birdie has sexual undertones. Birdie's mother is a whore and she's resisting against following that path, but her resistance is what ends up being her destruction, because working in a dial-painting factory has given her radium poisoning. And then Jasper is facing the tragic struggle of being brilliant but too poor to advance himself. He was also orphaned by suicide, and his surviving uncle is an alcoholic and a bit of a wastrel.
The story is joyless and the characters are hard to like, but it was the grittiness and suspense that kept me turning the pages. As with THE IMPOSSIBLE GIRL, the rich detail, historical accuracy, and strong (if somewhat eccentric) female characters made the story stand out from the other wallpaper historical fiction I've read. The author doesn't shy away from unpleasant topics if they have a place in the story and feel necessary, which I really appreciate. I don't need anyone holding my hand. There's also an amazing twist that is just as disturbing and dark as everything else in the book.
If you're looking for something new and different, I really recommend this author and this book.
4 out of 5 stars