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3.4 out of 5 stars
3.4 out of 5 stars
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Peter Robinson has long been one of my favourite authors and I pick up anything with his name on it, knowing I'll be in for a good read. His latest book Before the Poison, is not part of his series featuring Inspector Banks, but is instead, a stand alone work.

Chris Lowndes left England when he was younger for the United States. He made quite a name for himself as a movie score composer. When his wife dies, Chris decides it's time to return home to England. He and Laura had planned to retire there. He buys an isolated house, sight unseen. When he arrives at the home, he is curious about the former inhabitants of the house. When he finds that it was the site of the murder of local physician, Dr. Fox and that his wife Grace was hanged for that murder, Chris indulges his curiosity and begins looking further into the trial. Curiosity quickly turns into almost obsession as he begins to doubt the official version of what really happened.

" I had a curious sensation that the shy, half-hidden house was waiting for me, that it had been waiting for some time."

This was a very different read from the Banks books. The pacing is much slower, taking time to build the layers of the story slowly and carefully. We follow Chris as he becomes increasingly insistent on discovering more about Grace. The story is told from three sources - Chris's inquiries, excerpts from a book called Famous Trials and finally bits from Grace's own journal, kept during her wartime nursing years. I found the journal entries especially poignant and extremely well written.

Much time is spent on developing the characters, their reasoning and their emotions. And this absolutely works for this story - anything faster would have ruined the atmospheric, period piece tone and feel of the tale. Some of that atmospheric feel comes from Chris's thinking he's seen something in the mirror of an old wardrobe in the house. There is another 'incident' such as this in Chris's childhood and I wondered if this would be explained or used in the story further. It wasn't, but added another layer to Chris's obsession. A revelation I didn't see coming late in the book does much to explain Chris's behaviour.

Robinson has always injected music into the Banks books. The Inspector's music collection and choices always provide a soundtrack for the story. This is continued in Before the Poison as well. Chris's choice of music often sent me online to listen to Robinson's selection of musical background.

Although others may find the pacing and lack of action a bit too slow, I enjoyed the change of pace from an author I have followed for many years, but Banks still remains my favourite. Before the Poison deserves to be slowly savoured under a single lamp, by a crackling fire in a house with creaking floors....
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on October 27, 2011
I always preorder Peter Robinson's books as I want to read them as soon as they become available.
This book was excellent, I won't reiterate what the previous reviewer said as I agree with him. The book was slow paced but you didn't become impatient with the writing. I do admit, I did drink more wine than usual reading the book because Chris always seemed to be sipping a glass of red.
The fact that Mr. Robinson can leave his Inspector Banks series and write such a well developed book, only speaks of how talented he is.
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on January 10, 2012
There is no doubting Peter Robinson's talent and ability to write more than just the Inspector Banks novels. Two things made an impact on me. What stood out most in this book for me was the commentary on how terrible the judicial system in the 1950's UK was with Grace guilty in the eyes of everyone at the time simply because she had an affair. Unbelievable to take a jump to her being a murderess based on no evidence.
The second was an excellent history lesson on how the nurses and indeed other women were treated and subsequently ignored in WW2 who endured terrible atrocities and sadly were told to go home and return to the role of wife and mother and not talk about the lives they endured. I like to think that women in most parts of the world have made tremendous advances since to assure their true roles in history. The only parts I found somewhat boring were the selections of the book about the trial which I think could have been condensed considerably.
I hope Robinson will work on more Inspector Banks novels in the near future.
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on December 7, 2011
Diverting his attention from the popular and successful Inspector Banks series, the author has written a murder mystery of a different genre. Instead of a police procedural, he has undertaken to use a variety of literary devices to unravel the truth behind a death that took place sixty years ago.

It begins when Chris Lowndes, reeling from the death of his wife, decides to buy a home on the Yorkshire Dales. He purchases Kilnsgate House, a large, bleak, isolated structure in which he hopes to recover from his depression, and, perhaps write a sonata instead of the incidental music for motion pictures which he did for many years on the West Coast of the US. No sooner does he take possession than he becomes haunted by its past: Grace Fox, the former owner, was accused and convicted of poisoning her husband, a respected local physician. And she was hanged for it.

Chris becomes so obsessed that he endeavors to 'discover' the truth, initially convinced that she was innocent of the charge. The author leads the reader (and Chris) from supposition to fact, alternating excerpts of Grace's wartime diary (she was a nurse, first in Singapore, then escaping the Japanese, suffering a series of devastating experiences, finally serving in France before returning to her husband at Kilnsgate House) and various interviews with aged characters, including her younger lover now living in Paris and a man who as a seven-year-old lived with the Foxes for a time as an evacuee at the beginning of World War II.

The shifts in the plot, as Chris conducts his 'investigation,' are truly ingenious, keeping the reader off balance to a fare-thee-well. The characters are well-drawn, and the author undertook deep research to create Grace's diary. While the novel may seem at times somewhat dry and slow to read, it constantly draws the reader forward and is well worth reading, and it is highly recommended.
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on December 24, 2011
This book is a first for me by this author. The story navigates between past and present, the past being over 50 years ago, and the present being year 2011.
Its starts out with a story line that gives you ghostly vibes, alongside of old court reports of a murder.
The mystery unfolds slowly but not in the direction you think.
Characters are all well written, and the central character enjoys good food and drink, and I always felt like having a glass of wine while I read.
Its a good quiet mystery, but not scary or suspensefull; but a mystery that is delving into the past and discovering secrets and information.
I really enjoyed his writing style, and will definitely seek out his other books surrounding his other main character Inspector Banks.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon January 2, 2012
One of my Christmas requests, I ve only been through 80 pages or so. Not because I don t love it but because I do! And want to stretch it out as long as possible. It is a rich dessert of a period mystery, beautifully told and full of flavours. Instead of gobbling down the whole thing I m relishing taking it in bits and enjoying being drawn in anew. So far it takes us into several historical eras as a widowed Englishman returns from his life in the US to an old house in Yorkshire. There is a story within a story and written in the hilarious voice of a crime writer from the 50s. It is romantic, witty, compelling, intriguing, full of allusion and I don t care how it ends just as long as it is late as possible. Thank you Peter Robinson!!!
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on March 7, 2013
Disappointing for a Peter Robinson book, I found the main character weak and lacking in credibility, the whole story seemed somehow contrived. I have read every book by this author and would therefore consider myself a fan, but I did not enjoy this one.
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on July 14, 2012
I really enjoy Robinson's Inspector Banks novels but this novel was incredibly boring. I kept reading it thinking it had to get better but it was truly awful. Save your time and money and do not buy this book.
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on January 27, 2013
I am a big fan of Peter Robinson's books, especially his Inspector Banks books. This book was mediocre and I did not enjoy it very much.
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on April 11, 2012
This book was very good, and I enjoyed it a lot and recommend it to other people. I would buy other books by this author.
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