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Fatal : The Poisonous Life of a Female Serial Killer Mass Market Paperback – July 1, 2003

32 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"[Schechter is] America's principle chronicler of its greatest psychopathic killers."

About the Author

Harold Schechter is Professor at Queen's College, The City University of New York. Renowned for his true-crime writing, he is the author of five non-fiction books: BESTIAL, DEVIANT, DERANGED, DEPRAVED and THE A TO Z ENCYCLOPEDIA OF SERIAL KILLERS.

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Product Details

  • Mass Market Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Pocket Star (July 1, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0671014501
  • ISBN-13: 978-0671014506
  • Product Dimensions: 4.1 x 1.2 x 6.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,195,456 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Harold Schechter is an American true crime writer who specializes in serial killers. He attended the State University of New York in Buffalo where his PhD director was Leslie Fiedler. He is professor of American literature and popular culture at Queens College of the City University of New York.Schechter is married to poet Kimiko Hahn. He has two daughters from a previous marriage: the writer Lauren Oliver and professor of philosophy Elizabeth Schechter. His newest book, The Mad Sculptor, (about a sensational triple murder at Beekman Place in New York City in 1937) will be published in February 2014.


"Ambitious, bold, and evocative, Schechter's storytelling grabs the reader in a similar manner to Capote's searing In Cold Blood." --Publishers Weekly

"Perfect for readers who enjoy the stories of the sensationalistic press of the 1930s and its crass exploitation of the details of horrific murders." - Kirkus

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By A. Reid VINE VOICE on September 5, 2005
Format: Mass Market Paperback Verified Purchase
English professor Harold Schechter has replaced Ann Rule in my heart as the Lord of True Crime Writing, but don't go to him expecting a lurid account of the crime du jour. He's going to give you an account of the crimes of yesterday. Fatal focuses on the criminal career of Jane Toppan, who began killing circa 1890. Schechter, also the writer of an extremely engaging series of murder mysteries starring Edgar Allen Poe, provides extensive detail in his thoroughly researched works. I don't read Ann Rule anymore; the true crime genre rather lost my interest years ago. But I like Schechter's histories almost as much as I like his fictions. I don't know that I'd personally consider Fatal his finest book, but it was still very well done and of interest on many levels--not only for the criminal psychology of its subject, but also for the culture that bred her, sheltered her and finally condemned her. Check it out. And then, if you haven't already, give Deranged and Depraved a try...and move on to Nevermore, first in his Poe mysteries.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By K. L. Uminski on January 5, 2004
Format: Mass Market Paperback Verified Purchase
Harold Shaechter is my favorite true crime writer because he chooses such interesting subject matter (Jane Toppan, Ed Gein, Albert Fish, Jesse Pomeroy) and really emerses his readers in the time and place of the murders. As a Bostonian, I especially appreciates it when he takes on some of out home grown deviants (Toppan and Pomeroy.) He captures the truth of the case, the whole truth, before they were infamous, during their ajudication and, most importantly, after, their lives in prison.
If you are fan of Caleb Carr or Mathew Pearl, I highly recommend this book and Shechter's others.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Sires on September 17, 2003
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Schechter is one of my favorite writers of historical true crime. He gives enough detail to place the murders in historical prospective, but doesn't go overboard. In this case he opens the book with a synopsis of a crime of the late 20th century then goes on to discuss a crime that occured in the late 1870's, twenty years before the events that form the core of the book. Both of these crimes help to illuminate the story of Jolly Jane Toppan, a popular nurse, whose surviving patients could not believe the accusations leveled against her.
The author also has a theory about the difference between female and male serial killers. I'm not sure I totally buy it but it is something to think about.
Anyway, this book is riveting. The background of the characters is well developed and researched. It also will you give you pause the next time a nurse hands you a paper cup with a bunch of little anonymous pills in it. "Take your medicine, it's good for you."
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By S Riaz TOP 500 REVIEWER on July 2, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
This is historical true crime at its best. The author takes the story of Jane Toppan, a matronly New England nurse, who was also a sociapath and recreates her life, the time she lived in and her crimes in a readable account of a fascinating story. Jane Toppan was born Honora Kelley and taken to the Boston Female Asylum at the age of six by her drunken father. Indentured to Mrs Ann Toppan of Lowell, Massachusetts, she lived with the family until was twenty eight, but was considered little more than a servant. Always an outsider, Jane was resentful of others and, in 1887, she applied for nursing school. Having spent most of her life as a servant, the drudgery was easy and, with her roly-poly looks and bubbly personality, she soon became known as 'Jolly Jane' - the life and soul of the party. However, others distrusted her and she was suspected of petty theft, lying and malicious gossip. In fact, the truth was much worse than that - Jane was a killer.

Although Jane looked the part of a kindly and trustworthy nurse, she was all too quick to poison her patients. As time went on, the author takes us through Jane's life in nursing school and private nursing. It is incredible how many people she killed - because she owed them money, because she disliked them, because they were too old, or simply because she wanted to. The author does not need to be sensationalist as the facts hardly need embellishment. He recounts her crimes, then her arrest and trial. From 1887 until her arrest in 1901, she used poison to kill and, amazingly, avoided detection for years.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Becca on February 9, 2007
Format: Mass Market Paperback
"Fatal" tells the story of Jane Toppan, a psychopathic nurse living in the 1890's. Her childhood was a difficult one, and though little is really known about it, what the author tells is points to one filled with abuse and turmoil. At a young age, she was put in an orphange and "adopted" by the Toppan family. Her part in the family was that of a servant, though it seems that the Toppans treated her well.

After she became a nurse, she began poisoning some of her patients as they lay in their hospital beds, with a mixture of morphine and atropine. She did this for pleasure, because she enjoyed it. She murdered her family members and friends, preferring people she knew over strangers. This went on for decades before the police finally caught on. Some estimate the number of people she killed being close to 100.

The author does a good job telling the story. It's amazing that more people haven't heard of her - this was the first time for me. There were some parts that were a little too gory for my taste, and I feel that the author occasionally pontificates. Of course, it's not enough to stop me from reading another one of his books. Those who enjoy true crime and history should enjoy this.
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