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....
Read an excerpt of Before the Poison.