Cover image for Some deaths before dying
Some deaths before dying
Dickinson, Peter, 1927-2015.
Publication Information:
New York : Mysterious Press, [1999]

Physical Description:
251 pages ; 24 cm
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The New York Times Book Review calls multiple-award winner Peter Dickinson "a stylist of subtle brilliance". Always surprising and incisive, the author of The Yellow Room Conspiracy and dozens of other unique novels returns with his first new book in five years; and proves again that in his masterful hands, powerful drama and devastating secrets can be found at the heart of even the smallest mysteries.

For nearly her whole life, through most of the twentieth century, Rachel Matson saw the world through the lens of a camera, and produced stunning photographs that not only captured the moment but hinted at a greater truth. Now the ninety-year-old widow lies paralyzed, in the final stages of a debilitating illness. Yet while Rachel's body may be useless, her spirit remains indomitable, her mind razor sharp, and her eye, the trained eye of an artist, still picks up the most telling details. Together with her vast collection of photographs, these gifts are about to help her meet an extraordinary challenge, as she confronts a shattering mystery that harkens back over the decades...

On a television program that showcases heirlooms, an antique pistol that belonged to her late husband, Colonel Jocelyn Matson, turns up, leaving Rachel bewildered and then profoundly disturbed. How could the prized Ladurie -- one of a matched pair of dueling pistols she had given to him to commemorate his return from the horrors of a Japanese POW camp -- appear hundreds of miles away in the possession of a stranger?

Determined to learn the fate of Jocelyn's gun, Rachel falls back on the one thing left to her -- her intellect -- and soon begins the painful process of teasing the past from the shadows. Whatemerges from the vivid shards of her memories is a mesmerizing tale of honor, passion, and betrayal that stretches from colonial India to modern-day England ...a tale of a loving marriage interrupted by war, of a once-proud reg

Author Notes

Peter Dickinson was born in Livingstone, Northern Rhodesia, now Zambia on December 16, 1927. He served in the British Army before receiving a B.A. in English literature from King's College, Cambridge in 1951. He was an assistant editor and reviewer for Punch Magazine for seventeen years. His first book, The Weathermonger, was published in 1968. He has written over 50 books for adults and young adults. His works for adults include Death of a Unicorn, Skeleton-in-Waiting, Perfect Gallows, The Yellow Room Conspiracy, and Some Deaths Before Dying. His works for young adults include The Iron Lion, The Ropemaker, Angel Isle, and In the Palace of the Khans. He has won several awards including the Boston Globe Horn Book Award in 1989 for Eva, the Carnegie Medal in 1979 for Tulku and in 1980 for City of Gold, the Whitbread Children's Prize for Tulku, and the Crime Writer's Golden Dagger for Skin Deep in 1968 and A Pride of Heroes in 1969. In 2009, he was awarded the OBE for services to literature. He died after a brief illness on December 16, 2015 at the age of 88.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Rachel Matson's body is ravaged by a disease that leaves her unable to move and barely able to speak while her mind, ironically, remains clear and sharp. A gifted photographer, Rachel spends her days remembering the events she once captured in photographs. Rachel must also face a mystery that centers around two valuable antique pistols she gave her husband, Jocelyn, years earlier. One of the pistols has turned up in the hands of a young woman named Jenny; where it has been all these years and what role it played in Rachel and Jocelyn's past are questions that Rachel can only answer by confronting dark secrets she has ignored for years. With Jenny's help, Rachel begins the painful process of facing a reality she has steadfastly tried to forget, and finally, at the end of her life, she discovers the sad but ultimately liberating truth. A rich and stylish story that is at once haunting, touching, and provocative, Dickinson's latest will capture the reader's imagination from beginning to end. --Emily Melton

Publisher's Weekly Review

His first mystery in five years gives ample evidence that Dickinson, an award-winning storyteller whose first novel was published in 1968, can still entrance readers with superbly drawn tales. He knows how to construct an atmospheric English country house mystery as do few other contemporary writers, and he can build a complex plot as skillfully as ever. An old woman, Rachel Matson, is paralyzed and slowly dying, but the mind inside her wasted body is as sharp as ever. She discovers one day that one of a pair of antique dueling pistols, which she had given her late husband, is missing. Her husband had been the colonel of an army regiment that was taken prisoner by the Japanese in WWII and used as slave labor. The men who survived the war have forged strong bonds, and their lives remain intertwined. Before her illness, Rachel had chronicled her life and her marriage in photographs; she was an artist who documented the reality around her. Now she must use her old photographs and her observational skills to discover why the pistol is missing and how its disappearance may connect to a secret that has been hidden for many years. Dickinson has long been known for creating subtle and meticulously detailed portraits of eccentric characters. In this novel, he depicts a family possessing courage, talent and wealth, but whose members are obsessed with an old crime that has haunted their lives. This beautifully crafted and highly original English mystery should bring new fans to an exceptional writer. (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Rachel Matson was a talented photographer and the devoted wife of Jocelyn, a World War II prisoner of war. Now a 90-year-old widow dying of an illness that has paralyzed her, Rachel is determined to hang on to her mental powers. When she discovers that Jocelyn's treasured antique pistol is missing, a long-buried secret comes back to torment her. With the help of her loyal nurse, Dilys, Rachel uses her photographs to come to terms with her past, piecing together a series of events that tore her family apart 39 years ago. Veteran British mystery novelist Dickinson (The Yellow Room Conspiracy, Mysterious, 1994) skillfully fleshes out the characters of Rachel and Dilys and spins an absorbing tale. Recommended. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 2/1/98.]. David Plante, Minot State Univ. Lib., ND (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.