41 of 43 people found the following review helpful
Gripping and atmospheric,
This review is from: Before the Poison (Hardcover)
Before the Poison is one of those books that grips you from the very first page and never lets go with an encapsulating fluidity that you come to expect from Peter Robinson - certainly from my experience! Immediately transported back to April 1953 we follow the final 15 painful seconds of Grace Fox's life as she walks to the gallows, her dignity intact, following her conviction for the murder of her husband Dr Ernest Fox earlier that year.
Once at the gallows, she was placed in position over the chalked "T" on the trapdoor, and the assistant pinioned her ankles with a leather strap. Mr. Pierrepoint took from his pocket a white cotton hood, which he placed over Grace's head, then he carefully and gently adjusted the leather-sheathed noose around her neck. When all was to his satisfaction, he stepped back, removed the safety pin and pushed the lever away from him in one sharp, swift motion. The trapdoor opened and Grace fell to her death.
There's something mystical about this book, something I can't quite put my finger on but the house, the surrounds, the back story and Chris Lowndes all combine to deliver a breathtaking narrative that is overwhelmingly captivating. When Robinson first introduced Kilnsgate House - Yorkshire - it didn't take long before I was swept up in the romanticism and began to ponder if a hostile takeover was possible. I wanted Lowndes out of the house and I wanted to move in - at any cost! Moving from room to room as our protagonist explores his new surroundings I imagined lighting a log fire, cooking in the kitchen and sitting down to compose a piano sonata on the grand piano. It's quite frightening the hold Robinson's narrative had over me and I honestly began to believe the house existed and it was well within my grasp. Powerful stuff!
It's been a while since I read Robinson's last book - DI Banks series in August last year - and I have to admit I'd forgotten just how good he is. One of the things I love about the author is his obvious love for music and classic cinematography and he shares this passion in abundance in Before the Poison. Sleepless nights in front of the fire, whisky in hand and company in the form of Julie Christie or Celia Johnson all helping Lowndes settle in to his new home - my home - far from his idyllic life in Los Angeles. When I read a book, I often find myself creating an ideal soundtrack in my head to fit the novel but Robinson has done all the work for me. From Schubert's Impromptu to Purcell's Dido and Aeneas - a most beautiful aria - he steps up his knowledge with a little Ella Fitzgerald and Marvin Gaye to add a little variety. When an author makes you hunt out Janet Baker's haunting rendition of Dido and Aeneas in the late 60's you know he's done his job. Magnificent.
Before the Poison is an intelligent, multi layered novel with the odd surprise or two thrown in for good measure - one admission towards the end of the book shocked me and although handled with great sensitivity was completely unexpected. Robinson creatively reconstructs Fox's trial with articles taken from "Famous Trials" in 1953 and then seamlessly takes the reader back to the war torn era of the early forties as he shares entries from Grace's private journal. Robinson's attention to detail is amazing and I was blown away by how he introduces the insignificant blemish on Fox's skin caused by sunlight early in the piece and later crafts the story to explain how this came about - attention to detail is incredible.
Together with a stunning landscape, vibrant characters and an evocative story, Robinson has created a highly intelligent and well-crafted standalone novel. My only disappointment came when I turned the final page and was faced with the realisation that the story had concluded and my dream house a distant memory - until I pick up the book and read it all again. Gripping stuff and highly recommended