A Beautiful Poison

Written by Lydia Kang
Review by Jo Ann Butler

Allene Cutter’s 1918 engagement party should have been a smash. After all, the Cutter family’s Gilded Age wealth is still intact, and Andrew Smythe Biddle III is a real catch. Unfortunately, Florence Waxworth, a socialite busybody who has managed to offend nearly everyone, dies in a fall during the party. The police rule it an accident, but a lingering odor of bitter almonds makes Allene, Birdie Dreyer, and Jasper Jones, chums since childhood, wonder if something more sinister is at work. Then Allene gets an anonymous letter ominous in its simplicity: You’re welcome.

With WWI and the Spanish flu epidemic serving as a backdrop, A Beautiful Poison is an intricate romp through New York City’s mansions, slums, and even an impromptu autopsy at the city morgue. The influenza is not the only thing making the body count rise. One after another of Allene, Birdie, and Jasper’s friends and relatives come to a mysterious end, and each time another anonymous letter appears. The odd, scientific nature of the deaths awakens Allene’s interest in chemistry, and Jasper’s job as an apprentice medical examiner comes in handy as the three investigate the series of bizarre deaths. Then Birdie falls ill…

Author Lydia Kang is also a physician, and she uses her medical background to elegant effect in her historical thriller. She keeps the reader guessing through the final pages and beyond in this most enjoyable tale. Mystery fans will particularly like A Beautiful Poison, but I recommend it to all.