CHOCANOIA

by The Chocolate Dictionary

Also known as the Anti-Milk Tray Approach, and best defined as occasions when chocolates are given with malevolent intent, chocanoia is the complete reversal of the affection and generosity with which chocolates are normally given. Mercifully chocanoia is more commonly found in the pages of fiction than in real life, with crime writer Anthony Berkeley being one of the first to use it in his classic 1929 whodunnit  The Poisoned Chocolates Case.

One of the first known cases of chocolate poisoning in fiction. (image from: http://www.tower.com)

Roald Dahl used choconoia as a plot device in  My Uncle Oswald, in which the eponymous uncle pursues a business venture involving Prestat truffles injected with a powerful aphrodisiac. Agatha Christie seemed to have been so fond of the theme she used it three times. In The Chocolate Box, an elderly mother murders her son, a bigoted French politician, by poisoning one of his chocolates. In Peril at End House, someone tries to frame Poirot by making it look like he laced a box of chocolates with cocaine. And in Three Act Tragedy an elderly resident of a sanatorium dies from eating poisoned liqueurs, in an attempt to prevent her divulging what she knew.

Agatha Christie’s ‘The Chocolate Box’. image from: http://www.ovguide.com)

In a real-life case of chocanoia from 1941, a jealous Brigadier General called Tredegar (actually a pseudonym, his real name was John Millar), from Edinburgh, attempted to poison Georgina Ferguson with a box of Terry’s Devon Milk, the contents of which had been laced with potassium permanganate. After being caught and then convicted of attempted murder he was sentenced to three years penal servitude.

In the 1950’s, an MI6 team lead by Frank Quinn – a real life inspiration for Fleming’s Q – experimented with lacing chocolates with a shellfish toxin in a plot to assassinate Egypt’s President Nasser. The deadly chocs were duly prepared but, fortunately for Nasser, the project was shelved and the unusually flavoured crèmes were never used. But could the know-how have been passed to Israeli counterterrorism agents instead? In a documented case from the 1970’s, Mossad agents assassinated an elusive enemy hiding in Lebanon by poisoning his pralines. All because he had hijacked an airliner. The method must have had considerable appeal for, ten years later, in a plot to assassinate the Palestinian commander Abu Jihad in Tunis, two Israeli agents, one disguised as a woman, approached his house before one of them opened fire on a bodyguard with a gun concealed in a box of chocolates.

However, the example that became the most vivid symbol of chocanoia, because of the huge scandal it caused at the time, is the case of Christiana Edmunds, the Victorian poisoner from Brighton. In an attempt to get rid of her rival in love, the wife of a local doctor, a man with whom she was having an adulterous affair, Christiana laced a box of chocolates with strychninine, before delivering them to the unsuspecting victim. The doctor’s wife duly eat the chocolates, fell violently ill soon after, but fortunately survived the terrible ordeal. However, this didn’t stop Christiana going on to poison many more people before being finally apprehended.

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