Before the Poison, by Peter Robinson

poison.jpgThis is the first non-DCI Banks book by Peter Robinson that I’ve read.

After decades of living and working in America, Chris Lowndes returns to Britain after the death of his wife. He buys a large isolated property in Yorkshire and finds it was the site of a murder almost sixty years earlier. Previous resident, Grace Fox was hanged for poisoning her husband.

Lowndes becomes increasingly interested in the story as he finds connections between himself and the accused murderer and starts to investigate her story.

At first I found it hard going. The story is told in the first person by a character I initially found difficult to care about. I think I was annoyed about his life of privilege: able to move across the world to a large house with an interesting history, and able to indulge in various passions with no immediate need to earn a living. However I accepted that he needed that kind of background to give him the time and money to carry out his research into the life and death of Grace Fox.

Peter Robinson’s love of music is made clear in his DCI Banks books. Music pervades the stories, and many of his book titles are borrowed from songs. In Before the Poison Robinson goes to town with music references from a variety of genres, with his protagonist being a composer of film soundtracks whose life is accompanied by his wide ranging music collection. His profession also allows for many film references, especially the classic cinema of Britain as well as more well-known Hollywood films.

The music and film references evoke more than a hint of nostalgia and the inevitable loss that the passing of time produces.

All through my adolescence in Leeds, I had watched my favourite cinemas turned into bingo halls, carpet warehouses, Sikh temples or mosques – the Lyric, Lyceum, Clifton, Clock, Western, Crown and Palace, all gone. It seemed hardly a week went by without one of them disappearing for good.

But Lowndes’ investigations into the story of Grace Fox shows that the past can also be preserved, and what seemed lost can be rediscovered, whether through historical records, personal journals, or surviving friends and family members.
Utilising all of these he builds a picture of the unfolding tragic events that led to her death.