I've always had a special place in my heart for murder by poison. But in the past couple of decades, poison seems to have fallen out of favor (except as a weapon of bioterrorism, involving mass deaths of hundreds or thousands).
I'm thinking more along the lines of the traditional mystery favored by writers like Agatha Christie where the victim was often a rich relative who had outlived their usefulness. The Golden Age of Poison seems to have peaked between the Victorian Era in the 1880's up to the 1930's. Many of the top mystery writers in this period were British, and their material often came from exotic locales that remained part of the British Empire. Colonial sources like Africa, India and South America provided a rich vein for mysterious toxins; fast acting, undetectable and useful for bumping off the rich relative or the inconvenient spouse.
Assisting in this pattern was the fact that forensic science was still in its infancy. Poisons were easy to obtain and hard to uncover in an autopsy. Anyone could walk into a local apothecary and purchase strychnine, arsenic or the popular poison of the month, without ID.
Today, forensic science has entered a golden age, and readers expect that CSI type investigators will be able to decifer not only the DNA in the blood of a murder victim, but the presence of any unusual poisons or substances. Dangerous chemicals are tracked by Homeland Security or corporations who maintain a database. You can't even rent a video without some form of ID, let alone 500 pounds of ammonium nitrate.
Now comes word that scientists may be able to create an anditote to a wide range of poisons. Nanosponges may be able to soak up a wide range of toxins, according to an article by Daniel Akst. Scientists at the University of California are working on this latest discovery.
It's enough to make a crime writer cry? What's next? Cameras at intersections to record cars who speed through red lights? Oh, wait...that's been done.
Seems we'll have to get more creative when we sit down at the computer and ponder that age old mystery as we write our next story.
How do I kill someone, and get away with it?