I picked up each of these books without realizing they had some devious connection to the botanical world. Imagine my delight when I discovered:
"My name is Mary Katherine Blackwood. I am eighteen years old, and I live with my sister Constance. I have often thought that with any luck at all I could have been born a werewolf, because the two middle fingers on both my hands are the same length, but I have had to be content with what I had. I dislike washing myself, and dogs, and noise. I like my sister Constance, and Richard Plantagent, and Amanita phalloides, the death-cap mushroom. Everyone else in my family is dead."
Yes! Don't you all go rushing to the bookstore at once. There's more:
"Constance can put her hand upon a bewildering array of deadly substances without ever leaving home; she could feed you a sauce of poison hemlock, a member of the parsley family which produces immediate paralysis and death when eaten. She might have made a marmalade of the lovely thornapple or baneberry, she might have tossed the salad with Holcus lanatus, called velvet grass, and rich in hydrocyanic acid."
It's Shirley Jackson's classic We Have Always Lived in the Castle, with a new introduction by Jonathan Lethem. De-lish.
And then! Alan Bradley's wonderful The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, also about a young girl with a taste for murder. Eleven year-old Flavia de Luce has a chemistry set and a working knowledge of poisonous plants. By the time we get to page 12 she's distilling the urushiol from poison ivy and adding it to her sister's lipstick.
And as she's trying to figure out what poison a murderer might have used, she says to herself:
"Then there was curare. It, too, had an almost instant effect and again, the victim died within minutes by asphyxiation. But curare could not kill by ingestion; to be fatal, it had to be injected. Besides that, who in the English countryside–besides me, of course–would be likely to carry curare in his kit?"
Good stuff. Go check it out.