Day 293: Before the Poison

Cover for Before the PoisonI never read anything by Peter Robinson before. I looked him up because of the TV series “DCI Banks,” as he is the author of the Inspector Banks series, but then I found that Before the Poison was already on my list of books to read. It is not an Inspector Banks novel, but I found it gripping from start to finish. Although it is not a mystery novel in the traditional sense, it involves an investigation of events in the past with revelations about the present and even the hint of a ghost story.

Chris Lowndes is a recent widower, a British composer of film scores who has been living in California for 35 years. He has purchased a large house in rural Yorkshire sight unseen with the intent of making his new home there and writing more serious music.

At the beginning of the novel, he arrives at his new home, which is beautiful and old but very isolated. He is puzzled to find some personal possessions left behind although the house has been leased for many years and asks his rental agent to find out who used to own it, as he bought it from a solicitor’s office.

Lowndes soon learns that his house was the scene of a notorious murder. Grace Elizabeth Fox, a nurse during World War II, was found guilty in 1952 of murdering her husband, the local doctor. Lowndes becomes interested in the murder and soon finds that the evidence against Grace was circumstantial and mostly based on the fact that she was having an affair with a much younger man. As he tracks down information and villagers who were alive at the time, Lowndes begins to wonder if there was a crime at all or if Doctor Fox died from natural causes.

Alone in the house most of the time, sometimes stranded by bad weather, Lowndes occasionally battles with depression, misses his wife, and is kept awake by strange noises in the house and thinks he glimpses a woman in the mirror of a wardrobe. He is also attracted to Heather, the realtor, who is having marital problems. And he keeps seeing a hooded figure out by the old lime kiln. Eventually he comes across a diary belonging to Grace, which relates her experiences as a nurse during the war.

This novel is atmospheric and very interesting. A few times I thought I knew where it was going, but it went somewhere else. I wasn’t really interested in the subplot involving Heather–I didn’t really like her–but otherwise I was totally engrossed by the novel.

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