19 June 2012

Review: BEFORE THE POISON, Peter Robinson

  • Format: Kindle (Amazon)
  • File Size: 646 KB
  • Print Length: 460 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1444704834
  • Publisher: Hodder (August 18, 2011)
  • Sold by: Hachette Book Group
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B005GQ6E6W
  • Source: I bought it
Synopsis (Amazon)

Through years of success in Hollywood composing music for Oscar-winning films, Chris Lowndes always imagined he would come full circle, home to Yorkshire with his beloved wife Laura. Now he's back in the Yorkshire Dales, but Laura is dead, and Chris needs to make a new life for himself.

The isolated house he buys sight unseen should give him the space to come to terms with his grief and the quiet to allow him to work. Kilnsgate House turns out to be rather more than he expected, however. A man died there, sixty years ago. His wife was convicted of murder. And something is pulling Chris deeper and deeper into the story of Grace Elizabeth Fox, who was hanged by the neck until she was dead . . .

For an extended synopsis, see the author's own web site, where you can also read an extract.

My take:

BEFORE THE POISON is Peter Robinson's third stand alone novel, and is set near Richmond, Yorkshire where he spends much of his time.

The death of his wife from cancer in the USA prompts Chris Lowndes, successful film music composer, to return to England. He has always promised himself he would return home when he was sixty. He buys Kilnsgate, an old house in the North Riding and is fascinated to learn of its connection to a woman hanged in 1953 for murdering her husband.

Lowndes' determination to know what led to Grace Fox committing murder gives the author the scope to do what he does so well - explore a facet of an historical period, this time World War II, and connect it with the current time. The fact too that Lowndes is a wealthy retiree allows the author to "grow" the plot, as Lowndes explores "leads" about Grace Fox's past, by travelling to France and South Africa. For much of the time Chris Lowndes is determined to prove that Grace could not have committed murder, but doubts creep in, as one theory after another is shattered.

I like the skilful combination of historical and mystery elements and BEFORE THE POISON is mapped against a rich canvas, with plenty to keep the reader thinking. Lowndes feels an affinity with Grace Fox right from the start, feels her presence in the house, and even begins to write music for her, and to envisage a film about her story. There are moments of harsh reality too, about the war in the Far East, and about war crimes on all sides.

The story is told through an interesting format: narration set in 2010 and 2011 by Chris Lowndes; interspersed with passages from a book called Famous Trials giving details about Grace Fox's trial and execution; and a journal written by Grace Fox 1940-1945 recording her experiences as a Queen Alexandra nurse. While the reader is given the story from all three angles, the main characters only gain access to Famous Trials and Grace's journal a littler later. So by the time Chris Lowndes reads these to items, we the reader, already know what he is going to find.

Very enjoyable read.

My rating: 4.9

BEFORE THE POISON was the winner of the Canadian 2012 Arthur Ellis award.

I've also reviewed
4.6, BAD BOY(2010)

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