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Just in Time for Sherlock: The Poisoner’s Handbook on PBS

The Poisoner's Handbook: Sherlock-Worthy Filmmaking at its best
The Poisoner's Handbook: Sherlock-Worthy Filmmaking at its best

PBS The American Experience: The Poisoner's Handbook


As the countdown to Sherlock’s return continues, PBS is whetting fans’ appetites with yet another show on real-world forensic detectives. The Poisoner’s Handbook, the latest offering in the American Experience series profiles the careers of the nation’s first and foremost police medical examiner and his crack ground-breaking toxicologist, two men who made forensic science what it is today. Based on the best-selling book of the same name, The Poisoner’s Handbook is a crackerjack tale that far outshines even the best network fare – and is as “Sherlock-worthy” as anything on television.

The two men around whom director Rob Rapley focuses his intriguing story are Charles Norris and Alexander Gettler. The former was the first scientifically trained, professional medical examiner hired by an American city – and almost immediately after taking on that task in 1918 Norris began investigating and solving crimes. He did not do so alone, as the book by Deborah Blum upon which the film is based aptly demonstrates; for Norris found an equally talented partner in Alexander Gettler, and together they turned criminal forensics into a true and effective science. Many of those who followed in their footsteps appear on camera to offer their thanks to these pioneers, as well as to explain how their craft has advanced since Gettler retired after half a century of solving crimes through chemisty.

The Poisoner’s Handbook is part of the American Experience series and airs on most PBS stations (including Connecticut’s CPTV) at 8 pm, Eastern, on Tuesday, January 7. (With CPTV also showing an encore airing at 1 am on Wednesday, January 8).

Mark G. McLaughlin is a Connecticut-based free lance journalist and game designer with over 30 years of experience as a ghost-writer, columnist, historian and game designer. An author whose first published book was Battles of the American Civil War, and whose games include the Mr. Lincoln’s War set, Mark continues to be enthralled by stories from the age of Lincoln. To view Mark's 16th published design, the American Civil War Naval strategy game Rebel Raiders on the High Seas, visit his publisher at
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