Before the Poison: Book summary and reviews of Before the Poison by Peter Robinson

Before the Poison

By Peter Robinson

Before the Poison
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  • Published in USA  Feb 2012,
    368 pages.

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Book Summary

Chris Lowndes built a comfortable career composing scores for films in Hollywood. But after twenty-five years abroad, and still quietly reeling from the death of his beloved wife, he decides to return to the Yorkshire dales of his youth. To ease the move, he buys Kilnsgate House, a rambling old mansion deep in the country. Involved in a massive work project before he left L.A., Chris had no time to view the property, relying on his capable real estate agent to handle the details.

Though he finds Kilnsgate charming, something about the house disturbs him, a vague sensation that the long empty rooms have been waiting for him - feelings made ever stronger when he learns that the house was the scene of a murder more than fifty years before. The former owner, a prominent doctor named Ernest Arthur Fox, was supposedly poisoned by his beautiful and much younger wife, Grace. Arrested and brought to trial, Grace was found guilty and hanged for the crime.

His curiosity piqued, Chris talks to the locals and searches through archives for information about the case. But the more he discovers, the more convinced he becomes that Grace may have been innocent. Ignoring warnings to leave it alone, he sets out to find the truth - a quest that takes him deep into the past and into a dark web of deadly secrets that is all too close to the present.

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Media Reviews

"Robinson has done swimmingly with his Inspector Banks novels, which routinely make best sellers lists and have won a bushel of key mystery awards, but this standalone could win him new readers - especially those looking for dark and twisty psychological thrillers." - Library Journal

"Robinson manages a melancholy tone without veering into the maudlin, and the presence of Grace Fox permeates every page." - Publishers Weekly

"[I]t has an exciting quest culminating in a shocking climax, underpinned with big issues of evil, punishment, retribution and self-sacrifice." - Oxford Times

"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

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Reader Reviews

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Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Juli S. (Portland, OR)
A change of pace from the author's Inspector Banks series.
Having been a fan of Robinson’s Inspector Banks series for years, I expected to like this standalone mystery. I was not disappointed at all. The format of telling the story of the present day investigation while telling the historical part of the story through excerpts from books and from Elizabeth Fox’s own diary works well. It’s a mystery but it’s also about relationships, guilt, and a bit of a history lesson added to the mix.

Robinson takes a break from procedurals and scores a win with this one. The story kept me guessing and the musical references made me wish there was a playlist available.

Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Elizabeth W. (Newton, MA)
A most enjoyable visit . . .
To read Peter Robinson’s Before the Poison is to enjoy a comfortable extended visit with protagonist Chris Lowndes in the English countryside. His voice is as smooth and relaxing as his favorite Armagnac. The details of the house and surrounding town are drawn with such a painterly eye that now, a couple weeks after finishing the book, I still have a sharp mental image of them.

Because both the character and the setting seemed so real and down--to-earth, I found myself accepting somewhat improbable circumstances as Lowndes begins to feel the presence of the ghost of a former inhabitant of the house and to investigate the past murder of her husband and Nazi experiments in biological warfare at the house. The plot of the mystery moves at a good pace, but nothing feels forced.

The only aspect of the book that is not covered with total grace is Lowndes’ slowly developing romantic life after the death of his beloved wife. His odd attraction to the ghost of Grace Fox is more satisfying than his relationship with Heather, which remains undefined at the end of the story.

That complaint, however, is minor, and I highly recommend spending time in the company of Chris Lowndes.

Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Rosemary K. (Saginaw, MI)
a delectable mystery
Peter Robinson's Before the Poison is an old-fashioned mystery that had me entranced from the first page. A recently widowed composer purchases Kilnsgate House, an isolated mansion in the English countryside, where a murder had been committed years before. The man, convinced that the wrong person had been accused, becomes obsessed with the story.

The book is skillfully written, going between the early journals of Grace Fox, the alleged murderer, and the challenges she faced as a nurse in World War II, and the contemporary account of the man who now owns her home. As he travels to Paris and England to unravel the mystery, the reader is completely drawn into the story. I read at a leisurely pace, savoring the Gothic elements and attention to detail.

I plan to purchase several copies of this book for friends who appreciate fine writing and a well-told mystery. I give Before the Poison my highest recommendation!

Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Connie H. (Evanston, IL)
The Hippocratic Oath
Robinson successfully draws the reader into this mystery from the past. The use of trial reports , Grace's diary along with Chris's own past combine with the narrative effectively. The contemporary story provides a vehicle for the very interesting look at the war time story.

Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by David V. (Wayside, NJ)
Before The Poison
This was an interesting blend of mystery and a love story. Although the fate of one of the main characters was evident from the begining, the author used some clever flashback techniques to keep the reader in suspense and involved in the plot. A key element was the English manor which the protagonist had recently acquired. I could almost feel the drafts, mysterious noises and long-dead inhabitants of the huge, isolated mansion. The characters were interesting and realistic, some quite intriguing and eccentric. I recommend this book for fans of interesting plots, WWII history and English landscapes.

Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Karen B. (Pittsburgh, PA)
Yorkshire mystery involving 50 year old murder trial a real page-turner
After a somewhat slow beginning, the reader is drawn into the main character's obsession/investigation of a possible miscarriage of justice resulting in the hanging of a woman in 1953 Yorkshire. Robinson's use of trial reports and journal entries effectively transport the reader back to World War II and the 1950s. Recommended for book clubs and anyone who enjoys a good mystery.

...21 more reader reviews

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Author Information

Peter Robinson Author Biography

Photo: Marion Ettlinger

Peter Robinson is a Canadian crime writer born in Britain. He is best known for his crime novels set in Yorkshire featuring Inspector Alan Banks.

He has also published a number of other novels and short stories as well as some poems and two articles on writing. He is the winner of numerous awards in the United States, Britain and Canada, and in 2002 he won the CWA Dagger in the Library.

Fourteen of his sixteen novels to date have featured Detective Inspector Alan Banks.Since 2010 several of the novels have been adapted for television under the series title DCI Banks.


  1. Gallows View (1987)
  2. A Dedicated Man (1988)
  3. A Necessary End (1989)
  4. The Hanging Valley (1989)
  5. Past Reason Hated (1990)
  6. Final Account (1995)
  7. Wednesday's Child (1994)
  8. Innocent Graves (1996)
  9. ...

... Full Biography
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