POISON: A History and a Family Memoir

Gail Bell, Author . St. Martin's/Dunne $23.95 (288p) ISBN 978-0-312-30679-3

Readers with a strong stomach will enjoy this unusual memoir laced with a natural history of poison. The author, an Australian journalist, short story writer and pharmacist, has both a professional and personal interest in her subject. From family gossip, Bell learned that her paternal grandfather, William Macbeth, deliberately poisoned two of his sons. He and his wife divorced after this dark deed, and Macbeth, an herbalist and chemist, continued to practice his trade. The author's interviews with her great-aunt revealed that her grandmother was reluctant to accuse Macbeth out of fear for their two remaining sons. Bell's exhaustive investigation of this family secret and her effort "to see the man in the monster" leaves her, finally, with a version of events that differs sharply from her great-aunt's recollections. Along the way, she offers scientific details on many types of poison and a series of engrossing but graphic and unsettling accounts of legendary poisonings, both real and literary, murderous and suicidal. Included is Flaubert's horrific description of Madame Bovary's death; the case of Mary Anne McConkey, who was hung in Dublin in 1841 for sprinkling her husband's lunch with aconite, which killed him in three torturous hours; and a 20th-century man who accidentally murdered his love interest by giving her what he thought was an aphrodisiac—Spanish fly. (Oct.)

Reviewed on: 08/26/2002
Release date: 10/01/2002
Genre: Nonfiction
Open Ebook - 288 pages - 978-1-4299-7076-1
Paperback - 288 pages - 978-0-312-32013-3
Open Ebook - 288 pages - 978-1-4299-7075-4
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