Messy, morbid, and entertaining.



An Australian pharmacist debuts with a lively, if disorganized, story of poisonous death in her family framed within an informal history of toxic substances.

In 1980, the author's great-aunt confirmed the family legend that Bell's grandfather had poisoned two of his sons in 1927. A doctor of naturopathy and an herbalist working around Sydney, William Macbeth allegedly killed his retarded four-year-old son because the boy was expensive to support and then forced his three-year-old son to drink a strychnine tonic as punishment for trespassing in his dispensary. Bell’s research reveals that Macbeth had learned pharmacology as a drugstore clerk but claimed an impressive and uncheckable pedigree including study in Pennsylvania. His bestselling product, labeled Macbeth's Strengthening Tonic (supposedly tested in the Highlands of Scotland on descendants of the great warriors of Culloden), contained a low dosage of strychnine. While gathering information on her crooked family tree, Bell offers a beginner’s course on fatal drugs: strychnine comes from the seeds of the Koochla tree and acts as a paralytic; arsenic is a tissue poison, causing the heart, liver, and kidneys to stop functioning. The author also ventures into famous historical and literary deaths. Cleopatra, who tested snakebites on servants, probably chose a cobra over an asp because the death is easier and the corpse better-looking. Emma Bovary and Napoleon died of arsenic poisoning, and Bell describes Emma's probable treatment if she had arrived in a modern ER. She considers George Orwell's 1946 essay “Decline of the English Murder,” which laments the end of poisoning’s golden era, dated by Orwell from 1850 to1925, before the advent of toxicological testing and the preservation of stomach contents. Bell relishes unusual cases like Anne McConkey's poisoning of her husband with wolfsbane in 1841 and a pharmacist/lover’s attempt to seduce a colleague with Spanish Fly, which killed her and another co-worker.

Messy, morbid, and entertaining.

Pub Date: Oct. 11, 2002

ISBN: 0-312-30679-2

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2002

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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Bernstein and Woodward, the two Washington Post journalists who broke the Big Story, tell how they did it by old fashioned seat-of-the-pants reporting — in other words, lots of intuition and a thick stack of phone numbers. They've saved a few scoops for the occasion, the biggest being the name of their early inside source, the "sacrificial lamb" H**h Sl**n. But Washingtonians who talked will be most surprised by the admission that their rumored contacts in the FBI and elsewhere never existed; many who were telephoned for "confirmation" were revealing more than they realized. The real drama, and there's plenty of it, lies in the private-eye tactics employed by Bernstein and Woodward (they refer to themselves in the third person, strictly on a last name basis). The centerpiece of their own covert operation was an unnamed high government source they call Deep Throat, with whom Woodward arranged secret meetings by positioning the potted palm on his balcony and through codes scribbled in his morning newspaper. Woodward's wee hours meetings with Deep Throat in an underground parking garage are sheer cinema: we can just see Robert Redford (it has to be Robert Redford) watching warily for muggers and stubbing out endless cigarettes while Deep Throat spills the inside dope about the plumbers. Then too, they amass enough seamy detail to fascinate even the most avid Watergate wallower — what a drunken and abusive Mitchell threatened to do to Post publisher Katherine Graham's tit, and more on the Segretti connection — including the activities of a USC campus political group known as the Ratfuckers whose former members served as a recruiting pool for the Nixon White House. As the scandal goes public and out of their hands Bernstein and Woodward seem as stunned as the rest of us at where their search for the "head ratfucker" has led. You have to agree with what their City Editor Barry Sussman realized way back in the beginning — "We've never had a story like this. Just never."

Pub Date: June 18, 1974

ISBN: 0671894412

Page Count: 372

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Oct. 10, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 1974

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