Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Before the Poison by Peter Robinson

Chris Lowndes built a comfortable career composing scores for films in Hollywood. But after twenty-five years abroad, and still quietly reeling from the death of his beloved wife, he decides to return to the Yorkshire dales of his youth. He buys Kilnsgate House, a rambling old mansion deep in the country.
Although Chris finds Kilnsgate charming, something about the house disturbs him — feelings made ever stronger when he learns that the house was the scene of a murder more than fifty years before. The former owner was supposedly poisoned by his beautiful and much younger wife, Grace. Grace was found guilty and hanged for the crime.
His curiosity piqued, Chris talks to the locals and searches through archives for information about the case. But the more he discovers, the more convinced he becomes that Grace may have been innocent. Ignoring warnings to leave it alone, he sets out to discover what really happened over half a century ago—a quest that takes him deep into the past and into a web of secrets that lie all too close to the present.

The best phrase to describe this book is "not quite".  It combines a murder mystery and a gothic ghost story, with a bit of romance, but I'm still undecided on the success of the result. It's not quite what it could have been, or not quite what I expected, or....just not quite.

I loved the setting - English country house, dreary weather, local pubs - very Phyllis Whitney, only with internet.  The protagonist is equally gloomy - recently widowed, bit of a hermit, haunted by a convicted killer - but likable and easy to sympathize with.  The story moves between Chris's present-day story, and Grace's story from the 1940's and 50's - but they don't quite join convincingly.  Living in her home, using her desk and piano, Chris's fascination with Grace is understandable, even expected, but the connection never feels quite complete.  The plot edges towards "ghost story" but doesn't quite get there - the sightings are few, vague and never really explored.

The sections taken from Grace's war-time diary are especially haunting - and proof that you can read, cry and walk on a treadmill simultaneously - but their impact on the present-day story is not quite what it could be.  By the end of the book, it felt as though even the author had grown tired and was merely revealing things that happened "off camera" instead of letting them unfold on the pages.  

I enjoyed this story, always looked forward to the next chapter, but it just wasn't quite . . .  I give it a 4 out of 5.


  1. Hmmm. I usually like stories that have the two timelines. And Peter Robinson is on my list to read. I have one of his books here, not this one though. I might still have to give it a go.

  2. "It combines a murder mystery and a gothic ghost story, with a bit of romance"
    This appeals to me even if it didn't totally hit the mark.