Ethylene glycol poisoning is extremely slow and lethal
July 26, 2019 2:16 PM   Subscribe

Thirteen mystery writers discuss their favorite murders from their own works. Content advisory: Brief descriptions of deaths, ranging from amusing to icky to horrible. Also, spoilers galore.

The authors are Lee Child, Harlan Coben, Tess Gerritsen, Peter Swanson, Ruth Ware, Karin Slaughter, Naomi Hirahara, Glen Duncan (aka Saul Black), Sheena Kamal, Chris Bohjalian, B.A. Paris, Stephen Coonts, and Riley Sager.
posted by ALeaflikeStructure (24 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
 
Touché. The NYT seems to forgot the yew tree.

pocketful of Rye....sheesh
posted by clavdivs at 3:02 PM on July 26, 2019 [2 favorites]


The NYT seems to forgot the yew tree.

Help me out here.
posted by ALeaflikeStructure at 3:47 PM on July 26, 2019


I’d love to read this but it looks like the NYT has plugged the incognito loophole.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 4:08 PM on July 26, 2019 [4 favorites]


I feel like none of these authors really write "mysteries", more like police procedurals or thrillers. Does anyone besides Anthony Horowitz or maybe J.K. Rowling-as-Robert-Galbraith write actual mysteries anymore?
posted by Ralston McTodd at 4:43 PM on July 26, 2019


I guess it's... a mystery?
posted by Splunge at 5:31 PM on July 26, 2019


So when I get my new free articles I will certainly read this. Query: Is the one where the detective enters the room and finds what is obviously a corpse; but when he looks closer it's a guy who is still alive in there?
posted by Splunge at 5:35 PM on July 26, 2019


I’m in Safari, and I was able to tap the Reader View icon as the page loaded and got to see the whole story that way (and NYT usually blocks me, too)
posted by Thorzdad at 5:36 PM on July 26, 2019 [1 favorite]


Ethylene glycol poisoning is extremely slow and lethal

Okay but despite what this author suggests, you're unlikely to successfully poison someone by slipping antifreeze into their drink. Staring in 2013 US antifreeze manufacturers began adding bittering agents to prevent accidental ingestion by people and animals. Her book is set contemporaneously (there is a reference to a 2016 Kia Sorento on p26) in Georgia* which has required antifreeze to contain a bittering agent since 2005. So it's not going to work, it's tastes too unbearably bad to drink.

*There was a Georgia woman who murdered two husbands by spiking their Jello with ethylene glycol before the bittering law was passed. Descriptions of her husbands' symptoms also make me think this author is taking some artistic license in describing ethylene glycol poisoning, but whatever.
posted by peeedro at 6:12 PM on July 26, 2019 [4 favorites]


Is it just me? Writers who talk about their own work when picking favourites seems a little off.
posted by Meatbomb at 9:10 PM on July 26, 2019 [2 favorites]


As an inveterate watcher of Forensic Files, ethylene glycol is no longer the poison du jour. It is now succinylcholine.

Is it just me? Writers who talk about their own work when picking favourites seems a little off.

"My favorite book is the one I just wrote, which is in reputable booksellers now for 19.95"
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 10:05 PM on July 26, 2019 [4 favorites]


Agatha Christie worked as a pharmacist for many years, while writing her books. Kathryn Harkup wrote a fascinating book about Christie's literary use of various poisons, and their real-world use.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 10:24 PM on July 26, 2019 [4 favorites]


Ok, some great ideas on how to kill someone here; any advice on how to dispose of the body?
posted by TedW at 11:32 PM on July 26, 2019 [7 favorites]


Also rhubarb leaves are toxic, but I'm not sure they're that toxic that you can have a slice of pie with some in and drop dead?
posted by edd at 1:43 AM on July 27, 2019 [1 favorite]


Meatbomb: maybe, but we like to gloat over the characters we've killed off gruesomely. It's kind of cathartic.

(SF writer here, and for the record, my favourite in-book murder technique was the one in "Glasshouse", which I heard about from a discharged juror in a Glaswegian gangland murder case. Favourite in terms of grand guignol, that is, not favourite in terms of anything I'd like to see happening to anyone, ever, anywhere. Glaswegian gangsters can be horrifically imaginative ...)
posted by cstross at 2:37 AM on July 27, 2019 [6 favorites]


edd: oxalic acid is nasty but it's not drop-dead-instantly poisonous: more like develop-excruciating-kidney-stones poisonous, if I remember correctly.

For an utterly horrifying death, try and equip your killer with a glass vial containing a few milligrams of dimethyl mercury, preferably frozen to reduce volatilization while they add it to the victim's food. Note: only maniacs work with dimethyl mercury, it dissolves its way through rubber and most plastics and it's the benchmark for neurotoxicity.
posted by cstross at 2:40 AM on July 27, 2019 [3 favorites]


I’d love to read this but it looks like the NYT has plugged the incognito loophole.

Save to Pocket usually works for me. Then I forget to go and read it. Real timesaver!
posted by srboisvert at 3:34 AM on July 27, 2019 [6 favorites]


Does anyone besides Anthony Horowitz or maybe J.K. Rowling-as-Robert-Galbraith write actual mysteries anymore?

Keigo Higashino writes actual mysteries, but some of the ones that have been translated are why or how rather than whodunit.
posted by betweenthebars at 4:27 AM on July 27, 2019


People have been killed by rhubarb leaves, but it only happens rarely as it supposedly takes about 10 pounds to do you in. Chronic oxalic acid poisoning is more common during times of food insecurity when people eat more leafy greens than normal leading to kidney stones and mineral deficiencies.

I know someone who poisoned himself and his household by eating pokeweed. He took an edible plants tour and did a very bad job of paying attention. They were told the new shoots were edible when properly prepared, months later he added some mature pokeweed leaves to a salad and served them raw. It was very unpleasant but not life threatening. They noticed a burning sensation in their mouthes and stomach cramps, so they knew something was wrong and got help.

But from the sounds of it, oxalic acid or plants that contain a lot of it like rhubarb don't make a great murder weapon because you know have been poisoned and you live long enough to identify the culprit.
posted by peeedro at 7:31 AM on July 27, 2019 [3 favorites]


For an utterly horrifying death, try and equip your killer with a glass vial containing a few milligrams of dimethyl mercury, preferably frozen to reduce volatilization while they add it to the victim's food. Note: only maniacs work with dimethyl mercury, it dissolves its way through rubber and most plastics and it's the benchmark for neurotoxicity.

Indeed. After hearing about that case I often wonder how they manage to manufacture, package, and distribute it without killing people right and left. Not to mention the first people to synthesize and work with it, who might not have known just how dangerous it is.
posted by TedW at 10:55 AM on July 27, 2019


Not to mention the first people to synthesize and work with it, who might not have known just how dangerous it is.

The NYC subways currently feature this quote:
Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.
- Marie Curie
...unless the thing you're trying to understand is radioactive, I guess? :(
posted by schadenfrau at 11:55 AM on July 27, 2019 [2 favorites]


Is it just me? Writers who talk about their own work when picking favourites seems a little off.

I would normally agree with you, but the headline (and I realize you may not be able to see it if you don't subscribe) is "We asked 13 novelists...'what's the best murder you ever wrote?'" so in this case I think it's only to be expected.
posted by andrewesque at 12:27 PM on July 27, 2019 [3 favorites]


Also rhubarb leaves are toxic, but I'm not sure they're that toxic that you can have a slice of pie with some in and drop dead?
I checked the Wikipedia article on oxcalic acid and it seems there is more in spinach than in rhubarb leaves. I wonder if this is another one of those “George Washington was born in a suburb of Istanbul in 33 BC” kind of Wiki “facts” or if I just misunderstand?

Anyway, pretty sure a slice of all-rhubarb-leaf pie is pretty much nonpoisonous. I love mysteries but even good (as opposed to “popular and willing to talk to the Times”) mystery writers are writers first and criminologists around ... oh, maybe number fifteen or twenty.
posted by Gilgamesh's Chauffeur at 5:59 PM on July 27, 2019


I remember reading about using tobacco/nicotine as a way to kill an already-unconscious person in a book about forensics.

I can't remember the book but it went something like this https://www.cbsnews.com/news/killer-poison-nicotine-as-a-murder-weapon/ and the key was that there was no test and/or it wasn't a commonly tested for poison.
posted by jarek at 7:34 AM on July 28, 2019


Obviously, the best murder weapon is a leg of lamb.
posted by Chrysostom at 10:13 PM on August 6, 2019


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