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==Synopsis of the book:==
Chris Lownes has decided after many years as a successful music composer for films to return to England. This decision has been made following his wife's death after a long illness. The purchase was made on-line and until he arrives in the Yorkshire Dales he has never seen Kilnsgate House only viewed pictures of it. He is keen for a new start and he thinks this remote location will allow him to work in peace and give him the space to deal with his own grief.
However as soon as he arrives he realised there is more to this house than meets the eye. It was been empty for many years and it contains secrets he wants to uncover and understand. As he is advised that there was a murder in the house in the early 1950's and the wife of the dead man was hanged for his murder. He is keen to learn all about this despite is happening nearly sixty years before and he feels drawn to uncover what happened, what led me to do this and was it as cut and dry at it appeared?
==My thoughts on this novel:==
I really enjoyed this thoughtful and very clever piece of fiction. It was well written and a bit like the lead character Chris Lownes I was drawn to read it and never wanted to put it down once I had started. I really enjoyed the mystery within this story and I found myself more interested in learning from the journal of the hanged lady Grace Fox than the actual investigation carried out by Lownes. That was not because this was not good I just found Grace Fox through these journals had an amazing untold story to tell.
The author Peter Robinson is probably best known for this DCI Banks novels which have also been successfully transferred to television. So far he has written 19 in that series and only three other novels. I am a big fan of the DCI Banks stories but I am keen to see what else he has to offer in different fields that is why I selected this story. It is also his most recent book having been written in 2011.
I think I would compare this writers style with Peter James or Stephen Booth, as they all tell fascinating stories that are well thought out and are full of good unsuspecting twists. This story was no different and for once it was good not to have a Detective involved just a normal man who steadily became obsessed with uncovering the truth about Grace Fox and his unusual home Kilnsgate House. So for my perspective it was good to try something a little different from a writer I like and respect.
As soon as I heard Robinson had a new book out I knew I must purchase it as I really enjoy the depth in this man's writing. And it is no surprise to me that he is a very successful writer in terms of sales and the awards he has received for his work. I found this book via Amazon and while it was available in paperback and hardback version I plumbed for the Hardback because it was on special offer at just ten pounds.
The first thing that struck me when my order arrived and it didn't surprise me if the least was the thickness of the book. As the story is 434 pages long. This author does not cut corners with his stories and that is the main reason I enjoy his work because it is full of depth and you really get the feeling that you have read a meaningful and thorough piece of fiction when you read one of his stories. I found as soon as I had read the summary on the inside cover I was dyeing to read the book. As I love a good mystery and I liked the concept of this unusual house where the husband according to the law was killed by his wife and she hung as a result and now the new owner wants to understand what happened all those years ago.
The story started without a prologue and begins by taking us back to the events leading to the trial of Grace Fox. It then moved on and dealt with in far more detail to Chris Lownes new life back in Yorkshire. I found this easy to get into and I really liked the idea of this man wanting to know what really happened and why Grace killed her highly respectable husband. The story then flitted between the two stories until Grace Fox was hung and where as the modern story was full of good exciting detail the story for the 1950's was more of a factual account from a book about the last few people who where hung in this country before it was abolished.
I found I really liked the position Chris found himself in. There was real mystery associated with what had happened in this house and why and if it had happened. I liked the way he went about trying to find the answers and the fact that he was a real amateur and so he said and did a few strange things as he tried to undercover the real truth. The only problem was this happened so long ago I found it amazing the other people involved where still alive and their memories of Grace were so good.
The story developed well and I really had no idea where it would lead next and what Chris would uncover. And while initially I really liked him as a character over time he started to annoy me. That was because everything seemed to go his way and I feel even when things are going well in your life you still have some setbacks. Although I must admit I was impressed and shocked with his confession that really amazed me in the story. I will say no more it was just something I had not seen coming at all.
When Chris was involved in the here and now trying to uncover what really happened, I was really pleased Grace's journals where found. These where fascinating and while again because of there very nature they where not too in-depth, I really enjoyed getting to know and understand the real Grace Fox. This was because she was so different from the stark account of her trial where she was found guilty of killing her husband. And it was something she never spoke about the awful things she experienced during the War, she was a real hero and got decorated for all her Nursing skills and care given unbelievabably awful conditions.
I wondered how and what twists this excellent author would employ at the end of the story and how he would conclude this wonderful story. And to be honest given what had preceded it it was a disappointing ending, I expected something amazing and it never happened. Yes the ending did make sense, yes it took me but surprise as well, but it was not the kind of end I had hoped for. Maybe this is my own fault for expecting too much but it left me slightly disappointed when I put down the story but as I have said it did make perfect sense.
While to many the leading character was Chris Lowness for me the star of the book was Grace Fox. I thought she was an amazing lady and while initially you saw as a cold hearted killer who was having an affair with a man young enough to be her son. The more you learnt about her the more I liked and respect her for everything she had achieved. And with the story involving her set in the War it was a time when the usual rules did not apply and it was amazing how she dealt with some of the awful things that where happening all around her.
This is a piece of suspense fiction that I would definitely recommend. It was always well written with so much mystery I found I as did Chris need to find out the truth about Grace Fox and what happened all those years ago. I found her journals particularly interesting to really find out what sort of lady she really was not just how she was portrait in her trial. The only thing that disappointed me was the ending, I was expecting fireworks when I only got an average conclusion to the story.
Year of publication: 2011
Thanks for reading my review.
This review is published under my user name on both Ciao and Dooyoo.
© CPTDANIELS July 2012.
Before the poison is a standalone novel by Peter Robinson who is best known for his DCI Alan Banks series of crime novels. The Banks novels are all set in North Yorkshire, and though this book is separate from those it is also set in North Yorkshire. The book begins with a simple story of a local man returning from California after making his money as a movie score composer, Chris Lowndes decides to return to Yorkshire after his wife dies and he wants to return to the Britain of his memories. Chris is in his early sixties, wealthy, still handsome and healthy and buys without seeing a large house called Kilns gate near Richmond, it is very isolated and once settled he decides to do some composing and to try and find out more about the house's history.
The reader already knows at this stage that the house was the setting for a murder, Grace Fox poisoned her husband the local doctor one snowy night in 1953, and she is tried more for having a fling with a young artist and executed. Chris is soon convinced of her innocence and begins a concerted effort to find out more about the case, talk to those still alive who remember it and try and work out what really happened all those years ago.
Though this isn't a Banks detective but could easily be one, Chris and Alan Banks could be brothers, they are older, handsome, intelligent, like fine wines, cask conditioned beers, opera, love the Yorkshire landscape and younger women tend to find them irresistible. So reading a novel about a Chris Lowndes you could easily just scratch Chris for Alan and place it in the Banks series of novels, except of course Chris has to use more circumspect means to find out his information rather than the police network.
One of Peter Robinson's stronger elements is an ability to move between decades, he seems to have a skill in portraying different decades in a manner which appeals to the reader. So this book is primarily set in the modern but dips backwards to the case of Grace Fox every now and again, this is of course a tool to keep the story moving forward and to introduce characters that Chris eventually meets in the modern part of the narrative.
However, the weakest part of the book is the reasons for the death and how the author's tries to spin a tale of spooks going too far for research, strange experiments, and mysterious disappearances. Also the journal of Grace appears and whilst interesting adds very little to the tale except as a means of showing these nurses in the darkest parts of south East Asia struggling against the deprivations of the Japanese. In the end, the book keeps the reader engaged and the various plotlines come together in a semblance of continuity but this reader found the explanation unlikely.
Peter Robinson has rapidly become one of my favourite author's I find his mysteries well balanced, finely constructed and gives the reader a chance to piece together the clues without revealing something totally unrealistic at the last moment. This is a decent novel and one I enjoyed reading but don't think it was his best and is best left for a beach or a long haul flight.
I just finished reading this book earlier today.
It centres around a man called Chris Lowndes, a man who writes musical scores for movies returning home to Yorkshire at the age of 60, shortly after his wife has died of cancer. He moves into a big old house and quickly finds out that it has a dark history - in 1953, the doctor who lived there was apparently poisoned by his wife who was then hung for his murder.
With nothing better to do, Lowndes sets out to find out what really happened.
I was given this book as a present so it wasn't the usual thing I read. Robinson is obviously good at what he does and writes with his fans in mind, with lots of detail about the area and the local towns (I gather all his other books are set in Yorkshire, most featuring a regular character called DCI Banks). The story itself was so-so, with some interesting detail about the Second World War and trials of the time but in terms of the current plot it was mostly the central character visiting old men and talking to them over a couple of beers before coming to conclusions.
There was also a lot of superfluous detail, which again I think was aimed at Robinson's regular fanbase. For example, I really couldn't care less what Lowndes orders every time he goes to a restaurant, what brand of wine he drinks, which performer is playing which sonata on the CD he's listening to. Robinson obviously thinks these aspects add to the depth and most likely so do his fanbase, but for me there was a lot of padding and the novel could probably have been 50 pages shorter without any damage being done to the plot.
I wouldn't read it again, but I wouldn't rule out reading other books by the same author in the future. It had enough to keep me reading to the end which a lot of books don't.
Author of The Tube Riders