The Poison Tree is the debut novel from freelance journalist Erin Kelly, and it is a compelling read. A psychological thriller that keeps you glued to the pages from beginning to end it manages to keep you guessing right up to the last chapter â€“ with plenty of surprises along the way.
The narrator of this tale is Karen â€“ who, in 1997, is a strait-laced straight A student destined for great things. Then she meets Biba â€“ an aspiring actress who is nothing like anyone Karen has met before. Karen is drawn to Biba\’s world â€“ a carefree place filled with parties, set against the backdrop of a crumbling Highgate mansion.
The story jumps its way from Karen\’s present â€“ where she has just welcomed her boyfriend Rex (Biba\’s brother) back into her life after a ten year stint in prison, and the past â€“ the ill-fated summer she spent with Rex and the bohemian Biba.
When Karen first enters Biba and Rex\’s world, she is quick to rid herself of old attachments, including her flatmates, boyfriend and house and moves into the house in Highgate without a second thought. Initially drawn to Biba, she also finds herself spending more and more time with Rex, until the three of them are inseparable. Over the course of that long, hot summer Karen discovers more about herself than she bargained for and begins to question whether the life she had planned for herself is really what she wants.
And then, just as suddenly, it all comes crumbling down. And by the end of that summer two people are dead, and Karen\’s life can never again be what it was.
I loved this book â€“ the suspense builds over the whole book, and you really don\’t understand the first chapter until you\’ve read the last. Karen\’s story was easy to relate to â€“ the verging on boring student suddenly exposed to a whole new world, until the very end when you realise that she\’d changed a whole lot more than just going to more parties.
For me, the other fabulous part of this book was the vivid descriptions of the world around the characters. Having lived in Highgate myself for a while (admittedly I was dossing on the floor of a friend, not living in a mansion) I relished the descriptions of the area around there and found myself picturing the High street, and remembering that walk from Highgate tube station!
I would definitely recommend this book to lovers of good psychological thrillers, and look forward to more from this author.
Available now: Hachette RRP$29.99