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.
Warnings: mentions of rape, child molestation, sex with dubious consent, character deaths, murder
Perhaps the best thing about A Beautiful Poison is that despite being a murder mystery novel, the murder mystery is not really the main focus of the story. Yes, it all circles around the murders, if you look at it from afar, but it actually delves into the motivations of the different characters. To call the characters of this novel morally ambiguous is an understatement – most of them come across as unlikable at first glance, with the exception of Birdy.
Allene is a rich socialite, whose childhood friends Jasper and Birdy grew apart 4 years ago. Now, with her engagement they are back in her lives, and their relationship is convoluted. There are traces of affection for one another, even romantic interest, but they all have their separate paths and even with Allene’s enthusiasm and clinical interest in solving the murders, we soon realize that those paths have dark nooks. What starts as just an interesting murder mystery emerges as a character-driven plot, with the desires of the characters and their feelings for one another carrying the plot forward. Birdy’s story, specifically, is about how she is always the object of others’ desires, and how it only brings her unhappiness. Jasper, despite affectionate for both his best friends, has only ambition on his mind. And Allene – she just wants what she cannot have, and considers Jasper and Birdy hers.
The plot kept me guessing throughout, and the mystery kept me on my toes, and the ending was unexpected, also more so because of the revelations for the character’s motivations. This is one dark story, but definitely recommended if that’s your thing.