Before the Poison – 2011
Grace Fox poisoned her husband in January, 1953. Or did she? Though she was tried for murder and subsequently hanged, Grace remained a silent and enigmatic figure to the very end.
When Chris Lowndes returns to his native Yorkshire to live in the isolated Kilnsgate House nearly sixty years later, in the wake of his wife’s untimely death, he wants only to be left alone to compose his piano sonata after years of soul-destroying, though lucrative, work writing film scores. Soon, however, as he learns the troubled history of Kilnsgate, he becomes fascinated by Grace’s story. The more he discovers about her life and her work as a Queen Alexandra’s nurse during the war, the more certain he becomes that she couldn’t have murdered her husband.
As Chris searches for other explanations of what might have happened on that snow-bound January night, through rumours of half-glimpsed figures, mysterious strangers and a missing letter, his quest to prove Grace’s innocence becomes entangled with his own need to sift through the ruins and loose ends of his own life in search of some kind of meaning and order, and his new relationship with local estate agent Heather Barlow.
Alternating between a contemporary account of Grace’s trial, her wartime journals of Dunkirk, Singapore and Normandy, and Chris’s quest for the truth, Before the Poison is a suspenseful exploration of guilt, self-sacrifice and redemption, moving inexorably towards a revelation that, when it is uncovered, will prove shattering and surprising both to Chris and to the reader.
“…it has an exciting quest culminating in a shocking climax, underpinned with big issues of evil, punishment, retribution and self-sacrifice.” Oxford Times; Read full review
“…most admirers of Robinson will find themselves utterly involved in this haunting, textured mystery which is able to make some salutary points about both love and sexual hypocrisy in the context of its slowly evolving narrative. If Robinson is to turn out one-off novels as assured as this perhaps we wouldn’t mind too much if Alan Banks was to retire and take up beekeeping in Sussex.” Daily Express, Read full review
“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. One of my books of 2011.” Milo’s Rambles; Read full review
“With this stand-alone novel, Mr. Robinson—best-known for his award-winning Inspector Banks mystery series—has fashioned a gripping tale that brings to mind not only old-time Hollywood but also British “golden age” storytelling in the Agatha Christie and Daphne du Maurier tradition.” Wall Street Journal
Robinson outdoes Daphne du Maurier in creating the proper atmosphere for the imaginative fancies of a grief-stricken man. Winds wail, snows fall and floorboards creak, accompanied by the melancholy strains of the sonata Chris is composing on Grace’s grand piano. But it’s not all shadows on the wall and creepy sound effects. Once Chris gets his hands on Grace’s journals, written when she was a battlefield nurse in World War II, the ghostly revenant whose presence he feels in the house is swept aside by the vital woman who emerges from these pages. So, in a sense, romantic suspense does turn out to be a woman’s game — but one Robinson plays very well indeed.” New York Times; read full review.