Before the Poison: Peter Robinson in top form

July 30, 2012 at 1:05 am (Book review, books, Mystery fiction)

  Having been a composer of film music in Hollywood for over two decades, Chris Lowndes has decided to  return to his Yorkshire roots. A widower, still grieving and bereft, Lowndes has taken up residence in Kilnsgate House, “a rambling old mansion deep in the countryside.” Perhaps it’s his persistent melancholy that leaves Chris open to the mysterious atmosphere of Kilnsgate. In any event, the house possesses a strange past, much of it cloaked in secrecy. And one of those secrets might involve a murder….

This book is a standalone; our old friend  Alan Banks is nowhere in sight. Furthermore, unlike the excellent series featuring Inspector Banks, the events in Before the Poison are narrated in the first person. It’s a work of psychological suspense rather than a procedural,  strangely evocative and beautifully written. It contains journal excerpts and a novel within a novel.  In the latter, purportedly written in 1953, one finds an especially vivid description of Richmond and the surrounding landscape of North Yorkshire:

The peaceful and picturesque old market town of Richmond stands majestically above the River Swale in one of the most enchanting corners of the North Riding of Yorkshire, commanding a panoramic view of the meadows and hills beyond. Its character and charm are evident in its many quiet wyndes; its quaint riverside and woodland walks; the Friary Tower; its cobbled market square, with Holy Trinity Church at its center; and perhaps most of all, in its ruined castle, begun in the year of our Lord 1071. The castle dominates the town from its steep hilltop above the Swale and offers many remarkable prospects in all directions.

I sighed deeply while reading this, reminded as I was of my revelatory journey to Yorkshire in 2005. I went with  a National Trust tour called ‘Hidden Treasures of Yorkshire.’ Here are just a few of those treasures [Click to enlarge]:


Harewood House

Fountains Abbey, a UNESCO World Heritage Site

Magisterial York Minster, brooding above the cobbled streets of the ancient city of York

Countryside of intense green and amazing beauty – mile after mile of it!

In Richmond, we were treated to a delightful tour of the Georgian Theatre Royal. The weather that day was rainy and cool, no pictures of note. Here is a view of Richmond Castle, from its own website

Intriguing legends are associated with this place, one of which has to do with King Arthur and his knights. Click here to read about them.

We learn from Peter Robinson’s  own site that Before the Poison has won the 2012 Arthur Ellis Award for Best Novel. This prestigious accolade is bestowed yearly by the Crime Writers of Canada. Also, Watching the Dark, the twentieth DCI Banks novel, is due out in the U.S. in February of 2013.

My friend Marge and I have been reading Peter Robinson’s books since 1987,  when Gallows View came out. What a pleasure it’s been to see his work become fuller, richer, and deeper over the years. Esteem for him as a writer has likewise grown, with every justification.

Peter Robinson

1 Comment

  1. Susan said,

    I’ve been hearing so many good things about this book! I have to get my hands on it. I’ve read many of his Inspector Banks series, which are excellent police procedurals. I love your pictures above, especially of York, the city I lived in for a year, 12 years ago now. It is beautiful, and i worked on Stonegate so I saw the Minster almost every day 🙂

    Lovely review!

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