Title: The Poison Tree
Author: Erin Kelly
Release Date: January 6, 2011
Publisher: Pamela Dorman Books
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
As Karen is trying to start a new life with Rex Capel, her former lover who has been in prison for nine years, she reminisces upon the summer that brought them together. Karen first met Rex’s sister Biba in college and fell in with the pair, eventually moving into their crumbling house. But Rex and Biba have secrets of their own, and as the summer winds on, it leads up to the fateful events that landed Rex in prison.
Erin Kelly’s debut novel is a suspenseful psychological thriller centering on the character of Karen Clarke. From the beginning, the reader knows that Karen is picking up Rex from prison. She seems like a sensible woman, so why is she still with this man, an ex-convict? Why didn’t she start a new life? While the younger Karen is naïve, the older Karen has seen too much of the world. Kelly develops her character beautifully; while the two share many traits and a good personality, it’s clear that Karen has grown up quite a bit.
The Poison Tree is a novel told in two different time periods: the present day and that summer that changed everything. Kelly handles the time jumps very well. She knows how to build suspense and takes the reader on a wild ride through her novel. From the beginning, it’s clear that events in the past are leading up to something horrible, but Kelly keeps the reader guessing as to what those occurrences might be.
Kelly also creates amazing atmosphere in The Poison Tree. As the walls of the Capel’s house are crumbling and decaying, so too is Karen’s idealism during that summer. The state of the house is a perfect metaphor for what is happening to Karen. At the beginning of the novel, when Karen first meets Biba and Rex, she doesn’t really notice the shape the house is in, as she’s swept up by their charm and bohemian lifestyle. But as secrets begin to emerge and Karen sees things for how they really are, she begins to notice the poor state of the house more, as her faith in her lover and best friend crumbles along with their home.
From amazingly written characters (book club members will have a field day dissecting Biba, who is completely destructive) to a gripping plot, The Poison Tree is a novel that fans of psychological suspense thrillers should not miss. Kelly’s second novel is releasing soon, and after reading this one, I can’t wait to get to it.