BEFORE THE POISON by Peter Robinson (Hodder & Stoughton, £18.99)

Did Grace Fox kill her husband? It takes just 15 seconds for her to walk from cell to gallows. Was she guilty? This is the question at the heart of Robinson’s intriguing new thriller.

Chris Lowndes, a successful composer of film scores in Los Angeles, returns after the death of his beloved wife to the Yorkshire Dales, where he was born and bred. He buys, sight unseen, an isolated house near Richmond. Here he will work on his piano sonata, but soon becomes obsessed in the history of Kilnsgate House and its previous inhabitants, Dr and Mrs Fox.

What happened that stormy night before the poison was administered to Dr Fox, who was found dead in his bed? Convinced that Grace is innocent, Chris goes on a mission to uncover the truth.

Readers will be delighted to find that Robinson’s new protagonist is cast in the same mould as his earlier creation, Det Chief Insp Banks, whom the author has described as “an everyman type of character. . . flawed, passionate, occasionally naive and sometimes deeply insightful”.

Apart from the grim opening, the ghosts are gentle. There are no ghastly scenes, with the marked exception of the horrific cruelty meted out by the Japanese described in Grace’s journal.

Back in Yorkshire, we feel the ‘secrecy and mystery’ of the little room at the back, see a women’s figure in the mirror, open the battered Steinway and pause at a family portrait and then the painting of the old lime kiln nearby. Like Chris, we get to know Grace better with each step along the way.

The story never loses its momentum despite, or rather because of, the intersecting strands contributing to its central core — Grace’s wartime journal as a nurse in Dunkirk and Singapore; and Sir Morley’s record of ‘Famous Trials: Grace Elizabeth Fox, April 1953’. With his ear for individual voices, Robinson captures the style and authenticity of each narrator.

Robinson has won many awards for his short stories and Det Chief Insp Banks series, some of which have been televised. His latest thriller cries out to be made into a film — it has an exciting quest culminating in a shocking climax, underpinned with big issues of evil, punishment, retribution and self-sacrifice.