Murder and Mayhem
A Doctor Answers Medical and Forensic Questions for Mystery Writers
By D. P. Lyle, M.D.

I picked this up at the library. I was looking for the answer to a question, “Is there a poison that fakes death, kind of like the one in Romeo and Juliet?” Imagine my surprise when I flipped through the book and found the section heading, “Is there a drug or poison that mimics death but allows the vitim to survive?”

No, wait. It gets better:

“You’re going to love this. Zombie Powder. Yes, Zombie Powder. It is the toxin of the puffer fish, also called the blowfish. The toxin is called tetradontoxin or tetradotoxin (I’ve seen it written as either and also abbreviated as TTX), and it is found in the ovaries of the blowfish. The toxin is not destroyed by cooking, but if the entrails are removed before preparation, the fish itself is harmless.

“In Japan the dish is prepared in a manner that leaves little of the toxin behind. It is called fugu and is a delicacy. The residual toxin, in small doses, gives the diner a flushed and tingly feeling…”


The rest of the book is like that. A few other sections: “Could Death by Bleeding Be Delayed by Several Days?” “How Long Can Someone Survive in a Freezer?” “How Dangerous Is It to Transport Heroin in a Swallowed Condom?” “How Long Does It Take for an Unburied Body to Skeletonize?” “How Is Body Weight Determined in a Quadruple Amputee?”

Each section is written thoroughly (as far as I can tell–Lyle goes beyond the literal question and looks at it from a plot perspective, adding extra detail) and entertainingly. The original questions appeared in a mystery-writers’ newsletter, rather than in a medical journal and are nicely pitched to the audience. Highly recommended for the torture and abuse of one’s characters.