Robinson, Peter - 'Before the Poison'
An important warning - BEFORE THE POISON is not a DCI Banks book. It is however a very good thriller which takes the well-used idea of somebody becoming obsessed with solving a decades-old murder and executes it very well.
Chris Lowe returns to his native Yorkshire from Los Angeles after the death of his wife from cancer. He has been working as a film score composer but now wants to spend time on a piano sonata in peace and quiet. For this period of solitude he purchases Kilnsgate House which lies in a secluded location far from other houses. Gradually he becomes aware of the tragic past of the house where 60 years earlier Grace Fox was alleged to have poisoned her husband – a crime she was tried and hanged for. Chris becomes fascinated by her story and the more he discovers from his investigations, the more he becomes convinced that she couldn't have murdered her husband.
The narrative alternates between (fictional) primary documents at the start of each chapter: a contemporary account of Grace's trial at the start and later on her wartime journals of Dunkirk, Singapore and Normandy where she was a Queen Alexandra's nurse, and Chris's quest for the truth.
Robinson's love of music moves from background in the DCI Banks books to foreground here and this combines with his usual skill in prose to give us a well written gripping novel. There are lots of twists and turns in the plot as you learn more about the character of Grace Fox and your own opinion changes as you start to question her guilt and there are multiple twists at the end although some are signposted to a certain extent earlier on.
I love the DCI Banks novels but on the basis of this it would be nice to have a standalone novel from Peter Robinson more than once a decade (the earlier ones were CAEDMON'S SONG in 1990 and NO CURE FOR LOVE in 1995).
Mark Bailey, Northern Ireland