Joanne 's Reviews > Before the Poison

Before the Poison by Peter Robinson
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Jun 14, 12

bookshelves: crime-mystery-thriller

I finished this a few days’ ago and rated it five stars, putting Robinson’s story to rest, but I couldn’t stop thinking about it, which is always a good sign how good or great a book is. It deserved a review, and as time is on my side this week, here it is:

Chris Lowndes, a famous composer based in LA, moves back to his birth country, England, to recover from the death of his wife who died of cancer. He seeks isolation to wallow in the loss and purchases an old abandoned home called Kilnsgate House deep in the countryside of Yorkshire, away from the hustle and bustle of mainstream. When he discovers Kilnsgate House has something of a history, the hanging of ex war nurse Grace Fox in 1953 for the murder (by poison) of her husband Dr Ernest Fox, he feels compelled to do a little digging. Believing Grace Fox may have been innocent, he begins a quest to find out the truth. That digging becomes quite an excavation, and revelation.

Crime fiction writer, Peter Robinson, is the creator of the Inspector Banks series (19 novels-to-date), some of those I’ve read and thoroughly enjoyed. BEFORE THE POISON, which is such an apt and ironic title, is a stand-alone. It’s a far slower paced novel compared to his series and not your conventional crime story. I’ve not read his other stand-alone’s, and this certainly stands on its own, or stands out, or better, is outstanding! The structure of the story works perfectly well, although at the start I did worry whether it would slow everything down and become somewhat irritating, as I was expecting the usual – a well-paced, page-turning police procedural, but no, the way Robinson has chosen to tell it, everything slots into place nicely. So the story switches back and forth from Chris’s present day, to the 40s and 50s in the form of Sir Charles Morley’s book of Famous Trials that includes the trial of Grace Fox up to her execution, and Grace Fox’s once secretly hidden journal, which records her day-to-day experiences as a nurse (overseas) during the war.

Robinson has done a huge amount of research regarding the Queen Alexandra Nurses during the Second World War, highlighting the atrocities of war and what these nurses had to endure, and if they ever survived the strafing, sinkings, bombings, imprisonment and torture, the death of their comrades and so on, and were lucky enough (depending how you looked at) to come back home intact (at least physically), they had to put the last five years behind them and return to what society expected of them – wife, house-keeper and mother, whilst the men got all the glory!

I enjoyed all aspects or layers to this story especially Chris’s character – his taste and love of classical music, not to mention the copious amount of wine and beer he consumes (in a good way), his melancholy and loneliness, his gentle, charming and sensitive ways, and the obsession with Grace Fox, all of which makes him an engaging, pretty likable fellow. Obviously drawn to the historical aspect of the story too, I liked the way Robinson threads this through the narrative, making for an interesting and intriguing read, and surprisingly, a page-turner, in a much less frenzied manner that I’m accustomed to. Worth mentioning is Robinson’s skill as a writer when it comes to description and the lyrical (sometimes bordering on elegance), which I relished, and ups the excellence of his story telling.

As I’m not good at keeping secrets, I would darely love to throw in a number of spoilers particularly the ending, which is something of a bombshell, one you don’t see coming, but works in so well on the whole. You’ll have to read this highly recommended and award winning novel to find out more … much more.

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Reading Progress

06/07/2012 "No page nos with Kindle Touch. I'm 20% in. This is slow-paced but compelling. Enjoying it thus far."

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