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Before the Poison: A Novel Hardcover – February 21, 2012

3.7 out of 5 stars 180 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“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.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow; 1st Printing edition (February 21, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0062004794
  • ISBN-13: 978-0062004796
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (180 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,076,724 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Maine Colonial TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on December 25, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Chris Lowndes is a Yorkshireman who has made a successful Oscar-winning career in Hollywood writing music for the movies. But he's always dreamed of returning to his home and his beloved wife, Laura, was happy to agree. When cancer takes Laura, the devastated Chris decides to continue with the plan, spending the next year making arrangements, including buying a house, Kilnsgate, in the countryside.

Soon after moving in, Chris learns that his realtor, Heather, somehow neglected to tell him that in 1953, Grace Fox, the nurse wife of the house's owner, Doctor Ernest Fox, was hanged for murdering Dr. Fox with poison after they hosted a Christmas dinner party. At first just curious to find out more about the murder, Chris soon becomes nearly obsessed, almost literally haunted by Grace and wanting to find out what really happened that fateful night.

While Chris's investigation occupies much of his time, even taking him on trips to France and South Africa to talk to people who knew Grace, it's not his only occupation. He settles into his home and town, making new friends and even beginning a tentative relationship with Heather. When he is alone, he devotes much of his time to composing a sonata to honor Laura's memory and working to come to terms with her death.

Chris's preoccupation with Grace and Laura brought to mind Vera Caspary's book, Laura (and the movie adaptation starring Dana Andrews and Gene Tierney), in which a police detective becomes obsessed with the dead Laura, whose death he is investigating. Chris is tormented by his own dead Laura and, in his dreams, Grace and Laura become confused.

Peter Robinson is best known for his long-running police procedural series featuring Detective Chief Inspector Alan Banks.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The problem with murder mysteries for me is that they
have the same plot -- one or more people are murdered, now we
have to figure out who did it. This book is entirely different,
centered on a 1953 murder for which the apparent murderer was hanged
in that same year. The amateur detective obsessed with the hanged
woman is a rich, urbane, and complex grieving widower, a movie music
composer working on a "real" piece at an isolated although modernized
home in rural Yorkshire. The journey that his investigation takes him
on and the changes it makes in him form the substance of the book, along
with a description of the (to me ludicrously unjust) 1953 murder trial and
the WWII journal of the convicted murderer's service as a nurse during WWII.
Switching between the three time frames could have been confusing, but each
time I was happy to return to the other story.

The book is powerfully and movingly written, with several well-drawn
secondary characters, and the wilds of Yorkshire and the old mansion
make a terrific setting, especially contrasted against the
sophistication of modern Britain. His travels as he follows clues to
talk to those with information about the murderer also provide great
contrast to the dour Yorkshire Dales. All the music, food, and drink
also add to the texture of this work. The novel is involving and
gripping, and the ending seemed moving and just enigmatic enough for
me, as we finally learn just why this story is so compelling for him.

The only major flaw I felt was the ease with which he found people and
got complete strangers to open up to him at once about the most
painful moments of their lives.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I am a big fan of Peter Robinson, and I have read many of his mystery novels. I would rank this one as very good, and one of my favorites of the last few years. Note that this is not an Inspector Banks story.

Brief summary and review, no spoilers.

After a a harrowing opening chapter describing a woman being put to death years earlier, the story then starts out as a man named Chris Lowndes has moved to an old English estate named Kilnsgate. Though born and raised in England, Chris has spent the last 25 years in Los Angeles writing music for movies - as he would say the kind of music no one remembers. His beloved wife Laura has recently died, and Chris decides to move back to England and to concentrate on composing. He has bought the estate of Kilnsage sight unseen but is delighted once he arrives and is shown around by Heather Barlow, the real estate agent who sold him the property.

Kilnsgate is an isolated and evocative manor, with many acres of isolated forest surrounding it. Although happy to be there, Chris is nonetheless a bit concerned and troubled about the house - especially when he learns that a former occupant named Grace Fox was put to death by hanging for poisoning her husband Arthur back in the mid 1950s.

Although he is not sure why, Chris believes that Grace was innocent and he sets off on a mission to find out if she was indeed a murderer or not. He has to go back in time by interviewing locals who were acquainted with Grace and Arthur, and also go elsewhere to talk to people close to Grace from both her family and from her past.

This is a very good mystery. There are twists and turns along the way, and I don't think you will figure out the end until you're there.

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