The Poison Tree – Erin Kelly

I understand that ivy is not a good thing for a bricks and mortar property. When out of control, it can grip, strangle and cause immense damage. In the former two we have the reading experience of Erin Kelly’s The Poison Tree, and in the latter: the theme of the tale told. And, as the back cover blurb tells us: by the end of that summer, two people will be dead…

Back in the hot London summer of 1997, Karen, the perfect grade-achieving student is dumped by her fellow-student housemates who fly off to Europe, but she comes across Biba, Bohemian in style and an aspiring actress. Intrigued and fascinated, Karen soon exports herself from her digs and joins the wild world of Biba at her Highgate mansion home for endless parties and a carefree existence, albeit with funding an ongoing issue. It soon becomes obvious that the lifestyle of Biba and her brother Rex is not entirely down to choice and where a ‘live for today’ ethos prevails, there is also underlying tension and a sense of impending doom over this summer of love.

Kelly expertly weaves past and present creating more of a ‘what’, ‘why’ and ‘how’ over a whodunit. The Poison Tree also focuses on the consequences of actions and crimes, and how lives can change forever. The author has been compared to Nicci French and Barbara Vine, although I see comparisons with Andrew Taylor: just when you think you’ve received all the plot twists, along comes another. And believe me, there is an absolutely cracking one to come towards the end, focusing on the consequences I mentioned.

For me, the only weakness in this novel was in the credibility of Biba’s seductive powers. She’s almost too selfish and self-centred, and sometimes too grubby, to remain believable as the magnet continually attracting the hitherto rather strait-laced Karen. But as the story unfolds we also appreciate that Biba is damaged goods; and in her acting ambition she is perhaps seeking an escape from the life she inhabits. This is such a strong debut from Kelly, it’s hard to believe it’s her first novel.

The Poison Tree was longlisted for the Crime Writers’ Association John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger and is available from Waterstone’s and Amazon. Read more about the author here. Kelly’s second novel – The Sick Rose – was published earlier in June.


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