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Before the Poison    by Peter Robinson order for
Before the Poison
by Peter Robinson
Order:  USA  Can
McClelland & Stewart, 2011 (2011)
Hardcover, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Here's something different from award-winning mystery author Peter Robinson. Though best known for his long-running Inspector Alan Banks police procedural series (Bad Boy was the nineteenth), he now brings fans a psychological mystery with deep tendrils in history and hints of mysticism, Before the Poison.

Widower Chris Lowndes is a successful musician, well known in Hollywood for his film scores. He's still dealing with the death of his wife Laura, following 'cul-de-sacs of lost love, where the grief waits with its sharp blade, jabs at me all of a sudden like a mugger in the night and makes my eyes burn.' They had planned to live in the Yorkshire Dales together. Now Chris goes alone, renting isolated Kilnsgate House sight unseen.

He plans to work on a serious composition and to try to come to terms with the manner of Laura's death. Instead he becomes absorbed in the mystery of the murder of the house's previous owner, Dr. Ernest Fox. The physician's lovely wife, Grace Elizabeth Fox, was sentenced to death for his poisoning and was hung for it almost sixty years before. Indeed, some who know Chris consider him obsessed with this very cold case, which turns out to be largely circumstantial.

While a relationship very gradually develops between Chris and his married real estate agent, Heather Barlow (who asks him if he's fallen in love with a ghost), he follows various trails, hoping to find the truth of Grace's life - and death. He reads books and newspaper articles, interviews her lover (a younger artist) in Paris about their time together, and meets her troubled granddaughter Louise, as well as a military man who revealed a hard secret to her. He learns that Grace (a wartime nurse) was badly damaged in the war and reads her journals. He feels an empathy with her, based on his own experience.

The puzzle of what really happened pulls reader interest through Before the Poison. Though we never find out for sure, Chris's conclusions seem very credible and Grace's death a terrible waste of someone who had already been through too much. Though I have to admit to preferring Alan Banks to this kind of story, I found it thoroughly engrossing and difficult to put aside. Robinson fans will not be disappointed.

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