Peter Robinson is the author of the bestselling DCI Banks crime novels and last year I came across one in a charity shop and thought I would give it a go. One of the later ones so found I was a bit at sea with the background and history of the characters, but enjoyed it and made a mental note to save this series up for further reading when I have exhausted all my current crime crazes. There are an awful lot of them which is a bonus.
However, Before the Poison is not a DCI Banks story but a stand alone fiction so had no idea if I would enjoy it or not - the answer is I certainly did. Chris Lowndes returns to his native Yorkshire after the death of his wife. He is a composer, writing music scores for movies in America and, now he is on his own, he needs time to recover from his loss and to write his piano sonatas which he has wanted to do, but never had the opportunity after years of soul destroying, albeit lucrative, work in Hollywood.
He buys a house in Richmond in Yorkshire - it is bought long distance and he knows very little about it. 'I walked up the path between the trees and the overgrown lawn, a broad symmetrical oblong of limestone with a hint of darker millstone grit here and there.....there was an arched stone porch at the front, with wooden benches on either side which reminded me of the entrance to an old village school.... I had a curious sensation that the shy, half-hidden house was waiting for me, that it had been waiting for some time"....
What Chris does not know is that a murder took place in this house in 1953. Grace Fox was found guilty of murdering her husband, the local GP, and met her end on the gallows. As Chris learns about the troubled history of Kilnsgate, he becomes fascinated by her story and the more he discovers about her, the more certain he becomes that she did not murder her husband.
OK so the scene is set nicely for an atmospheric and slightly scary investigation - Chris feels there is a presence in the house and that this presence is Grace. There are several threads to the narrative and one of my favourite devices is used, the time line flitting backwards and forwards - we have Chris's searching and questioning alongside the report of the trial at the time from which it is clear that the jury and judge are prejudiced against Grace as she was a free spirit and had taken a young lover, and Grace's journals written in wartime when she was a nurse. These journals are set in Singapore, North Africa and Germany and, for me, were the most fascinating and interesting part of the story. Reading these I found a deeper understanding of her personality and character and came to the conclusion that she was a brave and principled woman who did not have it in her to commit murder.
Chris has his own issues to deal with and feels the need to bring closure to his doubts, not only about Grace, but where his life is now going to lead. He finds that his sonata is inspired by the conundrum that is Grace and he also finds a slow growing relationship with Hester, the estate agent who sold him the house and was the first one to tell him its history.
An ending I was not expecting, not clear cut by any means, but in a way satisfying. On checking I see that Peter Robinson has written two other stand alone books which I may read before I embark on the DCI Banks series. Good to know I have all these to come.
I thought this was a simply terrific book - I have been lucky in the last few weeks with my reading. No sooner have I put one great read down than I pick up another. I read this after my perusal of The Good Wife's Castle by Roland Vernon which was quite marvellous and I thought it would be rather difficult to follow that, but Peter Robinson gave me another day of total concentration while I read this straight through.
Flowing narrative, seemingly written with ease so that the reading experience is the same. Highly recommended by Random.