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Confessions of a Thriller Author: Pick Your Poison

Photo Credit Flickr Creative Commons.
Photo Credit Flickr Creative Commons.

Most mystery and thriller writers joke about their search history, but we’re really telling the truth. In the wrong hands, every one of us would look like psychopaths plotting our next murder.

Lucy Kendall is my very own serial killer, and she doesn’t like getting her hands dirty. After all, she still believes she’s killing for the right reasons. So Lucy uses a variety of drugs to get the job done.

In today’s Confessions of a Thriller Author, I’m sharing what I know about some highly dangerous substances.


In All Good Deeds, Lucy’s weapon is cyanide, based on The Iceman, who used to carry around a nasal spray bottle filled with the stuff and squirt it on his unsuspecting victims. In my research, I found that his methods weren’t just the stuff of legends. Cyanide does absorb through the skin and very quickly. Death would come in minutes, and while it won’t be pretty, it often mimics a heart attack. According to Dr. DP Lyle (Howdunit Forensics), cyanide poisons the cell’s ability to use oxygen. They begin dying immediately, causing chest pains, shortness of breath, etc. And the clues that cyanide might be involved–cherry red hue to the skin and internal organs and the faint smell of almonds–aren’t always detectable. In many cases, a medical examiner will only find cyanide if they suspect a poisoning and do the necessary toxicology.


Known as Special K, this stuff is a recreational drug that can quickly turn nasty. In See Them Run (Lucy Kendall #2), Lucy needs a complacent victim she can easily overpower and force to give her information. Ketamine works wonderfully for this, because while the victim is on their trip (also known as “going through the K-hole by hardcore drug users), he won’t struggle or put up a fight and would be highly suggestible. The drug is perfect for Lucy to get her answers, and there’s no need for sedation or restraint. Even better, the drugs wipe out the memory.


This one is very dangerous, and Lucy hasn’t used it yet. But it’s definitely in her back pocket. Known as SUX, Succinylcholine paralyzes the muscles to the point where the person can’t breathe. When used in anesthesia the doctor gives just enough to paralyze the patient so they can pass the breathing tube. An extra dose means the person will essentially suffocate. However, it can be found during autopsy, so it’s definitely not the first drug of choice.

Insulin Overdose

I’ll let you in on a little secret. Lucy uses this one in the first 20 pages of See Them Run. An insulin injection works by causing a fast and dramatic drop in blood sugar, and low levels causes loss of consciousness and rapid brain damage. So insulin is a great weapon for Lucy.

According to Dr. Lyle, 100 units of insulin would be sufficient, but killers often use more. The dose could be placed into a syringe and injected. An insulin overdose would work within a minute or two by this method, and the victim would likely die within 10-15 minutes.

Because injection sites can be hard to see on corpse if they’re in an out-of-the-way area, the mark could be easily missed by the medical examiner. A 27 gauge needed is very small and leaves behind very little mark.

The medical examiner would most likely discover the low blood sugar and jumpstart an investigation, but if your killer is good, she can cover her tracks.

And that’s today’s confession: I know way more about drugs that can kill than I should, and I’m constantly researching more.

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