A atmospheric murder story taking place in a really gothic-type setting is not so easy to get into in sunny California in late May. It is just so distant! Ah well …
Chris Lowndes, a successful Hollywood film score composer retires to a remote part of England, the country of origin, where he has purchased an old mansion. But the house seems creepy in some way – and a half century prior it had been the scene of a murder which was successfully prosecuted and the wife of the victim, Grace Fox, found guilty of poisoning and hung.
Our protagonist starts checking it out – researching, finding evidence that Grace may not have been guilty after all, or may have been … he reads the court transcripts and interviews an old lover as well as family members, but comes up with very little. Then he discovers Grace’s old journals and immerses himself in her WWII story. And Robinson seems to want to throw every possible motive for murder or suicide into the book so we get health ailments and blackmail and pedophilia.
So it really doesn’t need a lot of music and film info padding in there as well as historical and probably thematic background in WWII and other matters. I suppose it’s meant to heighten the suspense, but it’s all just over the top for me and ends up dampening the whole effect for me in addition to feeling like the book just drags on and on. The NY Times calls this “romantic suspense” – maybe that’s what it is – Lowndes is definitely vulnerable, but there were times I thought he had shades of sleaze and often wondered whether he might not be an unreliable narrator.
Robinson also makes room for the idea that “It was the way of the world then,” does not excuse wrong-doings. I tend to agree, but that idea is sometimes used to re-enforce our own standards – as if we have some absolute insight to the rights and wrongs of the world.