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Before the Poison: A Novel Hardcover – February 21, 2012
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“Brilliant.” (Globe and Mail on Before the Poison)
From the Back Cover
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. To ease the move, he buys Kilnsgate House, a rambling old mansion deep in the country.
Although Chris finds Kilnsgate charming, something about the house disturbs him, a vague sensation that the long-empty rooms have been waiting for 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, a prominent doctor named Ernest Arthur Fox, was supposedly poisoned by his beautiful and much younger wife, Grace. Arrested and brought to trial, 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.
Top customer reviews
However, I stumbled across this stand-alone novel by the same author, and what a unexpected surprise it was. Rich in physical and emotional imagery, though not overburdened with either, the story unfolded at a leisurely pace, allowing the reader to actually get to know the main characters on more than a superficial basis, weaving in bits of backstory among the details of Christopher Lowndes’s recently-acquired single status in a large, rather isolated House with a History on the Yorkshire moors, quite the departure from his previous upscale life in Los Angeles. The mystery here—you knew there had to be a mystery!—unfolded just as gradually, told in part by quotes from a 1950s “true crime” compilation of famous trials and a journal written by the former owner of Lowndes’s house, a woman hanged for murder more than 60 years ago.
This novel is not a police procedural, a Hitchcockian or Christie mystery, or a brooding Gothic piece, despite the Yorkshire setting. True, it has elements of mystery about it, but more important, I think, it is more appropriately a story of loss, of the hidden chambers of the human heart, and how it is possible, though certainly not desirable, to live with uncertainties on a number of levels. I don’t mean to sound cryptic, but there are elements here that should not be spoiled with too much iteration, so I’ll leave it to you to discover them on your own.
I expect there may well be folks who won't care for this novel because it doesn't move along at breakneck speed, leaving the reader breathless as s/he hurtles toward a rousing climax where “all is revealed” in a Perry Mason courtroom fashion. If instead you are in the mood for a well-written, subtly nuanced, involving story with characters, living and dead, you will care about, and a natural, emotionally captivating and believable denouement, I recommend this novel. So take a break, catch your breath, and relax with this one.
As always, I don’t do plot recaps. Go read other reviews for those.
It opens with a Hollywood composer returning home to England after many fulfilling years in California. The Character, Chris Lowndes is sixty and a new widower. The draw to continue his life in England in the Yorkshire dales is a mystery to his mother and brother, but, you quickly realize that Chris needs to find an 'ending' to his marriage/death and his childhood memories. Then, Chris will be freed to live his future.
Chris buys via internet, a property. The house exceeds his needs but he quickly feels at home. There is an atmosphere which feeds his composer heart but also tells him, through shadows, voices, and even a vision in a mirror, that perhaps the house is not completely at 'rest.' Why?
The 'why' is revealed slowly to Chris but not to us, the readers. The Author cleverly leads us directly into the mystery of the house and not gently. Rather through a shocking view of a prison hanging.
This novel is not a cozy murder but more an investigative look at a cold case. Did Grace kill her husband or not? Was it justified or not? These are just a few questions that arise. I think you will enjoy the journey to the answers, and let's not forget Chris' mysteries as well.
A good British murder mystery set from the 1950's to 2010's.
However I did enjoy this. It is set in the dales and there is a lot of music in it. That much is familiar. The narrator is a film music composer who buys a remote house in yorkshire after his wife dies. He is returning to his roots after a life spent in the US. The story swings between the present and the past as he becomes obsessed with finding the truth about a previous occupant who was hanged shortly after WW2 for murdering her husband. I enjoyed this but it is a solid story not great. Hence the 4 stars. Certainly worth a read but not as your first Robinson novel unless you are also a Goddard fan. In that case you will enjoy it anyway. Just do not expect his other novels to be like this.