Blog Tour/Book Review: A Beautiful Poison by Lydia Kang

About A Beautiful Poison

  • Paperback: 350 pages
  • Publisher: Lake Union Publishing (August 1, 2017)

Just beyond the Gilded Age, in the mist-covered streets of New York, the deadly Spanish influenza ripples through the city. But with so many victims in her close circle, young socialite Allene questions if the flu is really to blame. All appear to have been poisoned—and every death was accompanied by a mysterious note.

Desperate for answers and dreading her own engagement to a wealthy gentleman, Allene returns to her passion for scientific discovery and recruits her long-lost friends, Jasper and Birdie, for help. The investigation brings her closer to Jasper, an apprentice medical examiner at Bellevue Hospital who still holds her heart, and offers the delicate Birdie a last-ditch chance to find a safe haven before her fragile health fails.

As more of their friends and family die, alliances shift, lives become entangled, and the three begin to suspect everyone—even each other. As they race to find the culprit, Allene, Birdie, and Jasper must once again trust each other, before one of them becomes the next victim.

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About Lydia Kang

Lydia Kang is a physician and author of fiction, poetry, and non-fiction. She was born in Baltimore, Maryland and graduated from Columbia University and New York University School of Medicine. She completed her residency and chief residency at Bellevue Hospital in New York City and currently lives in the midwest, where she continues to practice internal medicine.

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My Review


The Industrial Revolution has been in full swing for a few years now. The Gilded Age is coming to its close. Even though times are changing there will always be the “haves” and the “have nots.” The haves: the Rockefellers, the Carnegies, and the barons of Wall Street, to name a few. The have nots: the sweatshop workers, the janitors, the dock workers, etc. Though there is a great disparity between the wealthy of 5th Avenue in New York, and the factory worker, one thing strikes all, no matter the economic status. The year is 1918 and the great equalizer is the pandemic called the Spanish Influenza. Thus far the flu has not affected anyone in Allene Cutter’s social circle. Or has it?

Allene Cutter is the belle of the ball. Her wealthy father is hosting Allene’s lavish engagement party. Allene is slated to marry into another wealthy family, the Biddles. At the festivities, an obnoxious, snooty debutante, Florence Waxworth, falls down the master staircase, and dies. It appears that she was tipsy after imbibing too much champagne, lost her footing, and tumbled down the staircase, breaking her neck.

But 18 year old Allene and her best friends of the same age, Birdie and Jasper, think differently. They believe she was murdered. Jasper, who intends to be a doctor, smells the scent of almonds on Florence’s lips. He is certain the debutante was poisoned – with cyanide. Allene has more than a passing knowledge of chemistry and agrees. The police have been called by Mr. Cutter. Allene tries to tell him it was a murder, but he will not listen and gruffly shoos her away. On leaving his study she hears her father tell the police to call the incident an accident as he hands the officers a bribe.

Allene and her 2 friends decide to solve the murder themselves since no one will listen to them. Jasper was once a member of the upper crust. He understands luxury, but due to a scandalous financial crash, his parents lost everything. Then they committed suicide by cyanide, which smells like almonds. He is now just a lowly janitor at Bellevue Hospital, trying to save money to get into medical school. He has been banished from Allene’s life since his family’s fall from grace 4 years ago, and only through insisting that he and Birdie attend her engagement party, do they come to be there. Allene and her mother were attended by ladies in waiting. Birdie is the daughter of Hazel, who attended Allene’s mother. They grew up together in the same house. Hazel and Birdie were both banished from the Cutter home under suspicious circumstances. Birdie now works in a clock factory. Her job is to paint the watch hands and numbers with radium based paint. That way the soldiers in the dark trenches will be able to know the time since radium glows in the dark. WW1 is raging in Europe.

Other people they know are turning up dead. All by some sort of poison, but never the same type. Whoever is perpetrating these crimes writes a note that always says “You’re welcome.” Sometimes the strange note shows up before the murder takes place. The three friends figure out who the next victim is, and though they rush to prevent the crime, they are always a few minutes behind the murderer who has already poisoned their victim.

Suspicion falls on just about everyone, and even the trio of friends become suspicious of each other. Who is doing this and why? And a question that may be even more important is, who is next?

This novel was non-stop action and intrigue. The characters were very well written. Allene is definitely the spoiled debutante who thought everything and everyone existed to entertain or serve her. By being so self involved she misses some things that would have been obvious to others. Jasper carries a huge chip on his shoulder after being relegated to the working class. He also has to worry about being drafted for war duty. However, as a janitor working at Bellevue Hospital he has access to the morgue and helps find clues. Birdie is an ethereal beauty whose aim is to get her friend Allene to let her and her younger sister, Holly, live once again in the Cutter mansion.

Once I cracked the cover on this novel, I could not put it down. I stayed up all night reading. I just had to know what was next. I had to find out who did it and why. (I was totally not expecting the ending.) I also wanted to see where things would end up for the 3 friends. The writing was very well done – a wonderful mixture of history, murder, and suspense. The author really researched the history of the time period. I have not read a book that kept me riveted like this since The Six of Crows. Even though there was one thematic element I thought could have been left out, it was still an awesome read. Definitely 5 out of 5 stars!!

Thanks again to TLC Book Tours for allowing me the opportunity to read a really great story.

Happy Reading!!

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