Before the Poison

Before the Poison starts, very simply, with the purchase of a house. After 25 years abroad, successful Hollywood musician Chris Lowndes has decided to return to the Yorkshire countryside of his youth. He purchases Kilnsgate House sight unseen, trusting his real estate agent to handle the transaction. Upon arriving at the house, however, Chris discovers that its former owner, Ernest Fox, was poisoned to death in his bedroom nearly 50 years earlier; his wife, Grace Fox, was found guilty of his murder and sentenced to hang. Chris is quickly captivated by this story of domestic distress and execution; convinced of Grace's innocence, he sets out to learn what really happened all those years ago--and finds a story of romance and war he never would have expected.

Peter Robinson, best known for his police procedural series featuring Inspector Alan Banks, recounts the hidden story of Kilnsgate House through imagined histories, letters and diary entries of the 1950s, interspersed with Chris's first-person narration of events. Though the style results in somewhat uneven characters, it ultimately succeeds in providing important insights into the thoughts and actions of both Grace Fox and Chris Lowndes.

These insights carry the reader through Grace's often harrowing experiences as a wartime nurse and Chris's efforts to cope with his own wife's death to a well-imagined, if somewhat tidy, conclusion. The result is an intriguing mystery that draws on the classic trope of the haunted old country house, but does so in such a way that it feels newly invented. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm

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