Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Before The Poison by Peter Robinson

    “I had promised myself that when I turned sixty I would go home.  Laura thought it was a great idea, but when the day finally came, I was standing by her graveside in the New England rain, crying my eyes out.”

    And so it begins, an absorbing multi-layered suspense/romance by Peter Robinson, the acclaimed author of the Inspector Banks series.  Before The Poison is a departure for him, and a first rate read for us as it is not only artfully plotted, full of surprising, affecting characters but also a rumination on the ramifications of guilt and personal responsibility.

    Chris Lowndes had been a highly successful writer of film music. But now, after the death of his wife, he leaves California after 25 years and returns to England, the Yorkshire Dales.  Sight unseen, save for photographs, he has purchased Kilnsgate House, built around 1748, set in a remote region with the nearest town two miles away.  But isolation is not a problem for him - in fact he is very comfortable with it.  Little did he know that Kilnsgate was once the home of a supposed murderess, Grace Fox, who was brought to trail in 1953 for poisoning her husband, found guilty and hanged.

    Before the Poison is related in chapters alternating between the present, a book, Famous Trials by Charles Hamilton Morley, and Grace’s own journal written primarily in 1940, the war years.

    Shortly after learning of Grace’s fate Chris comes to believe that she was innocent, hanged for a crime she did not commit.  As he turns this over in his mind it becomes almost an obsession as he seeks far and wide to solve a case some 60 years old.  Along the way readers join Chris in following promising paths that  lead nowhere until the surprising denouement.   We find we’ve been taken in by a gifted author and loved every page of it. 

    Before The Poison is a compelling story, richly atmospheric and studded with suspense.

     - Gail Cooke

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