Years after Dr. William Macbeth died, his ornate medicine
case passed to his estranged son. Over the protests of his
family, the son buried it deep in the ground, out of sight
and out of reach.
Then ten-years-old, Macbeth's granddaughter Gail Bell
watched the mysterious case of elixirs arrive at her home.
She watched her father treat it like a poison chalice. Only
decades later would she understand why: the case concealed
evidence of her family's deadly secret.
In 1927, Macbeth was accused of poisoning two of his sons.
He never stood trial. Bell, determined to discover how
this "calm, warm, and caring" healer could become a cunning
murderer-and evade detection-eventually uncovered the dark
secrets that her father had tried to hide from the world.
But as the unexpected twists of her investigation reveal,
nothing is as straightforward as it seems.
At the same time, she explores what the crime of poisoning
reveals about humanity, through the perspectives of myth,
history, fiction, and the great poison trials. A pharmacist
by profession, and the granddaughter of a suspected
poisoner by circumstance, she is perfectly placed to
revisit the cases of Cleopatra, Emma Bovary, Napoleon's
doctor, Harold Shipman, and Dr. Crippen, and she is equally
well-suited to chronicle the devastating effects of
poison's many forms, from hemlock and belladonna to arsenic
Poison is at once a fascinating history of the science and
sociology of poisoning, and a true, first-person account of
one woman's struggle to understand its mysterious role in
her own family's murderous history.