The Book Diva’s Reads is pleased to participate in another Partners In Crime blog tour and host a return visit from Frances Fyfield, author of Deep Sleep. Ms. Fyfield will be discussing drugs and what makes the perfect murder weapon.
Pip Carlton is a devoted husband and a highly respected pharmacist, cherished by his loyal customers. When his wife dies in her sleep, with no apparent cause, he is distraught. Comforted by his caring assistant, Pip ignores the rumors about Margaret’s death, relieved that the police seem to have moved on.
But Prosecutor Helen West refuses to believe that Margaret simply slipped into her final slumber. As she probes deeper into the affairs of the neighborhood, she uncovers a viper’s nest of twisted passion, jealous rage, and lethal addictions.
As a sudden act of violence erupts, shaking the community, one lone man, armed with strange love potions, prepares to murder again…
“C” is for CHLOROFORM
“C” is for CHLOROFORM. The Perfect way to commit Murder?
This drug is well out of fashion now, has been for decades, but it has quite a history and is a major character in Deep Sleep. A drug with a personality all of its own, Chloroform was referred to in early mystery stories as the favourite knock-out drug of Victorian muggers of the more humane sort, ie, those who preferred to render their victim unconscious by gas rather than by cosh. (Method: pour chloroform liquid on to a pad, approach victim from behind, grab him by the neck and put the cloth pad over his face before he has a chance to scream. Victim breathes in and passes out, giving You, the robber, enough time to go through his pockets and run away with his watch.)
So far, so good.
As it happens, Chloroform is a clumsy drug and also a poisonous one. It was one of the first anaesthetics ever used in the Western world and will still be used when nothing else is available, because it is instantly effective. As such, it was a great relief to surgeons, because it made the job so much easier if the patient did not notice the removal of his appendix or the trepanning of his brain. Instead of five people to hold the patient down, it required only one to administer the drug, (Hence the invention of the Aneasthetist as a professional. (My father was one of these, old enough to have used chloroform. I dedicated this book to him.)
Chloroform was a miraculous discovery, but like all drugs, had side effects, vis, the body cannot process it or digest it, and can only store it in the vital organs, where it does damage. The initial dose is a true knock-out drop which causes temporary unconsciousness, a minute or two. Enough time for the mugger, but not for the surgeon about his business.
So, they gave the patient a little more, and then a little more, and then a lot more. Result; the patient went into a nonrecoverable, comatose state, or died later of organ damage and system shut–down. If the patient ingests large quantities of this stuff, he will die. (Small quantities, imaginatively delivered, are a different matter.) Happened it was a little counter-productive in many cases. The surgeon did a great job on the leg, or the head, admired his work, left for home and the patient died anyway. (Surgeons are a bit like that.)
The Profession of Aneasthetists developed a mask, ie a fabric on a frame, to be put over the face of the patient, so that chloroform liquid delivery was carefully controlled. It is a heavy gas: the vapour sinks away and a lot of it misses target. Liquid chloroform dripped on the mask over the face of the patient, to maintain a level of unconsciousness for as long as the operation took, but never to deliver a dose too toxic. Also to avoid direct contact with the skin, (since chloroform burns slightly, leaving white marks). Something which a murderer would have to take into account.
Killing someone with chloroform takes time, effort and skill. First, render unconscious, then, drip, drip, drip. Initially, it leaves no trace; just another, unexplained death due to unknown causes. Then there is the other, recreational use of chloroform (and Ether; anyone out there old enough to remember gas and ether at the dentist?). A good sniff of chloroform is an aphrodisiac, heightening desire and performance in both sexes. Kind of early day Viagra. (In a subsequent book, Undercurrents to be published as a Witness title, I’ll be dealing with the side effects of Viagra, too. I love the side effects of drugs.) Drugs with this effect are dangerous material.
Chloroform is such an old fashioned drug, no one tests the dead body for it anymore. No one would notice if you got it right.
In Deep Sleep, I have a sad Chemist, who knows all about the good and bad properties of Chloroform. Cheap kicks, convenient, inexplicable death and an unexploded WW2 bomb in London providing an opportunity. That’s what this book is about. Also, nice, good people, like a good cop and a good prosecutor who can’t get along. Oh dear.
About the author:
“I grew up in rural Derbyshire, but my adult life has been spent mostly in London, with long intervals in Norfolk and Deal, all inspiring places. I was educated mostly in convent schools; then studied English and went on to qualify as a solicitor, working for what is now the Crown Prosecution Service, thus learning a bit about murder at second hand. Years later, writing became the real vocation, although the law and its ramifications still haunt me and inform many of my novels.
I’m a novelist, short story writer for magazines and radio, sometime Radio 4 contributor, (Front Row, Quote Unquote, Night Waves) and presenter of Tales from the Stave. When I’m not working (which is as often as possible), I can be found in the nearest junk/charity shop or auction, looking for the kind of paintings which enhance my life. Otherwise, with a bit of luck, I’m relaxing by the sea with a bottle of wine and a friend or two.” Frances Fyfield
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