The Mysterious Bookshop

Teule, Jean, The Poisoning Angel

Publishers Weekly
05/18/2015
Fans of gallows humor will relish Teulé’s fictionalized account of a 19th-century French poisoner Hélène Jégado, whose murderous career spanned almost a half century. As a pretty seven-year-old child, Hélène is fascinated by her mother Anne’s tales of the Ankou (aka Death’s worker), who “makes his way around Brittany with his cart and loads it up with the bodies of all those he strikes down.” Hélène is soon imitating the servant of death, placing belladonna berries in her sister’s soup, an attempt thwarted by her mother, who believes it to be a joke. But Anne’s innocent comment—that the poison would have been undetectable had Hélène crushed the berries first—unintentionally teaches her daughter how to be more successful. As Hélène ages, her list of victims grows, and she gets more inventive in introducing poison into her cooking and baking. Teulé (The Suicide Shop) leavens the tale’s essential grimness with light, ironic touches.

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