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Murder most masala

Lucrezia Borgia, who is said to have killed at least fifty of her contemporaries with a very large ham and arsenic and pineapple pizza. (Illustration from Poison mysteries in history, romance and crime by C.J.S. Thompson, The Scientific Press Ltd, London, 1923.)

I’m the first to admit that murder is no laughing matter, but the normal standards of propriety seem hardly to apply when the murder weapon is a curry.

It has been reported this week that a London woman was jailed for 23 years for fatally poisoning an ex-boyfriend via the medium of that most ubiquitous of spicy Indian dishes. Her motive: jealousy at her former lover becoming engaged to another woman. The poison: aconite, also known as wolfsbane. The curry: vegetable.

Details are vague as to how the poisoned curry was administered. I’m choosing to picture an elaborate plan involving a cunning disguise and a fabricated story about a misplaced takeaway order. I’m choosing to picture it this way, because if historical precedent is anything to go by, the alternative methods of application are fairly grim. I need hardly remind the learned reader that there are a number of theories as to how Agrippina, prime suspect in the poisoning of Claudius, was supposed to have delivered the fatal agent of that weak-kneed, runny-nosed emperor’s doom. One theory is that she pushed a poison-dipped feather down his throat. Another is that she delivered the poison by means of an enema. (There is even a controversial and little spoken-about theory which suggests a combination of the two.)

And on the topic of bottom-related ingress and egress, my research into the matter has revealed that one of the symptoms of aconite poisoning is diarrhoea. Which is rather clever on the part of the murderer, since it’s often also one of the symptoms of eating a bad curry. Almost inconceivably, this doesn’t seem to have formed part of the defence team’s weaponry in their attempt to acquit their client — nor has the fact that aconite, when prepared correctly, has traditionally been used in Asian countries as a medicine. Rather than being a premeditated killing, it’s entirely possible that this was an extremely poorly-executed attempt to restore the groom-to-be’s virility in time for the wedding.

One film studio, recognising the double-whammy appeal of a subcontinentally-spiced story of true crime, is apparently already hard at work on a script entitled The Bollywood Borgia. It’s a brave move, though, considering the surprisingly poor box office takings of There’s A Slug Pellet In My Saag Paneer and Sonobe Sayonara.

I mentioned Agrippina above, and it’s worth pointing out that some recent historians believe she may have been judged too harshly by history. It’s probable that the dim light in which she is viewed is due to chauvinism on the part of historians past.

Perhaps the London curry poisoner will enjoy a similar attempt at rehabilitation in the not too distant future.