When Dr William Macbeth poisoned two of his sons in 1927, his wife and sister hid the murders in the intensely private realm of family secrets.

Like the famous British poisoner Dr Crippen, Macbeth behaved as if he were immune to consequences; unlike Crippen, however, he avoided detection and punishment. Or did he? Secrets can be as corrosive as poison, and as time passed, the story of Dr William Macbeth, well-dressed poisoner, haunted and divided his descendants.

Macbeth's grand-daughter, Gail Bell, who grew up with the story, spent ten years reading the literature of poisoning in order to 'read' and understand Macbeth's life. Herself a chemist, she listened for echoes in the great cases of the nineteenth century, in myths, fiction, and poison lore.

Intricate, elegant, and beautifully realised, this is a book about family secrets and literary poisonings. It is a meditation on death, deceit and language, and answers questions like: how do arsenic, cyanide and strychnine work? Why is it so hard to poison someone these days? Was it ever easy? And it finally answers the question of what really happened to those small boys in the winter of 1927.


Gail Bell

Gail Bell was born in Sydney, is a graduate in pharmacy and education from the University of Sydney, and has worked in Australia and England.

She lived and worked (teaching English) in Holland for five years, has travelled extensively with her photographer husband Andrew, and has published travel essays from their time in India.

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