Peter Robinson,
Before the Poison
(William Morrow & Company, 2012)

I've long been a fan of Peter Robinson's Inspector Banks series, but this standalone novel of his stayed with me long after reading.

Christopher Lowdes, a composer of scores for Hollywood films, is at a loss after the death of his wife and decides to abandon California and return home to England. Sight unseen, he purchases a rambling mansion in the Yorkshire dales, intent on living there and easing his pain by composing a sonata that has long been on his mind.

It's only after moving into the isolated property that he discovers its sordid past. Fifty years earlier, the original owner Ernest Fox, a prominent doctor, is alleged to have been poisoned by his wife, Grace, who was found guilty and hanged for the crime.

Initially, Lowdes is merely curious. Then, in his despondent state, wandering about the lonely house, hearing the odd noises an old structure makes in the night, imagining he sees things in the shadows, he becomes more and more interested in the story of Grace. Soon he becomes obsessed with finding out the truth about Grace as he uncovers tidbits about her history from local, and then, far flung sources. The more he delves, the more convinced he becomes Grace was innocent and the more those close to him worry over his sanity.

When by chance he meets her granddaughter and reads the journal of her experiences as a nurse during World War II, his obsession leads to a shocking conclusion about her and also to surprising revelations about himself.

Music always has an important role in a Robinson novel (there's usually a playlist of music that inspired him in the writing). This is no exception, though the music here is classical, jazz and film scores rather than the rock found in the Banks novels.

This isn't a recent novel, but it's worth hunting out in your library or favorite used bookstore if you enjoy psychological suspense.

[ visit the author's website ]

book review by
John Lindermuth

9 December 2017

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