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Before The Poison by Peter Robinson

Before The Poison by Peter Robinson is the first book I've read by this author.  He has written other books. I'm not sure what I think about this book.  It kept me reading, but lately I've been finding that I'm ambivalent about these books once I reach the end.  I don't really have strong feelings one way or the other about this book or any of the characters in this book.  The thing I liked about this book was the historical mystery and the detective work/research involved in piecing it together.  There is also the implied supernatural element that is ever so subtly tiptoed around that I didn't really know what to make of it--like it's said the narrator may or may not be 'more sensitive' to the next world and that this is in the end how he knows with such certainty what exactly occurred in the house the night its last occupant croaked.  Once he's gone as far as he can go with the concrete research, the results of which he uses to flesh out a theory about what happened that night that can never be proven because both the alleged victim (the aforementioned occupant who croaked) and his alleged murderer are both dead.  I don't know; the whole supernatural thing wasn't really addressed other than in passing almost and it's almost like it's an afterthought, like it's just there to explain how he knows what he knows which he can't possibly 'know,' you know?

Christopher Lowndes (whose surname, if I'm honest, bothered me throughout the whole book), an English expatriate who lived in America for decades, returns to his motherland after buying a rather large, old, rickety, and isolated manor house in the equally isolating Yorkshire countryside.  Chris is still reeling from the loss of his beloved wife the previous year, is prone to bouts of melancholy and depression, and struggles with guilt over the death of his wife for an unknown reason that is revealed towards the very end of the book.  Not long after moving into his country manor, Chris discovers it was the site of a murder by poisoning some six decades previously.  The story goes that a housewife, Grace, poisoned her much older, general practitioner-physician husband in the middle of a snowstorm one New Year's Day.  When her affair with a local boy half her age comes to light, Grace is subsequently the victim of the witch hunt lead by the local police who search for evidence that she murdered her husband BECAUSE OF COURSE SHE DID now that it's known that she was stepping out her husband.  Grace is subsequently charged, tried, convicted and executed in short order in a murder trial that is long on moral righteousness and short on cold, hard evidence.

Chris is drawn to this mystery because of a tenuous personal connection to Grace and becomes determined to put together the pieces of the puzzle of just what happened that long ago night and just who was the beautiful, enigmatic, and alluring Grace.  At first he is not so sure that Grace was in fact guilty of the crime for which she was convicted and hanged and then he is not so sure her motives for committing the murder were exactly what was put forth by the prosecution at the trial--all he knows is that justice was not done and the truth has yet to be uncovered.  Because the more answers are found, the more a complicated picture is revealed--of Grace and her war service, of those days and weeks that lead up to her husband's death.  Chris travels far and wide to interview various contemporaries of Grace, reads an account of the trial, and eventually Grace's own war time journal.  What emerges is a much complicated history that spawned an unusual woman whose life may have ended in a tragic miscarriage of justice.

People who enjoy historical mysteries and historical fiction will enjoy this book as will mystery fans in general.

--Reviewed by Ms. Angie

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