06 January 2012

The Poison Tree, by Erin Kelly

I picked this advanced reader's copy up at SIBA in the fall of 2010. I'm kicking myself for waiting this long to read it.

In this engrossing psychological thriller and stunning debut from Erin Kelly, Karen Clarke is a brilliant young woman with a passion for language. Even at a young age, picking up a new language was a snap for her, and in her later years, it's no different. Even her daughter Alice, at nine-years-old, speaks Spanish fluently. Karen has raised this little girl alone, all while the father, Rex, has been in prison serving out a sentence for murder. And now he's coming home.

Ten years prior, in 1998, Karen was a few months shy from graduation at the top of her class. While Karen's plan was to get a wonderful job, or even go to grad school, things are delayed when she meets Biba Capel. While Karen is quiet and unassuming, a person who fades into the background as others easily ensnare the spotlight, she feels compelled to talk to Biba and offer her language services. Biba needs a coach, someone who can correct her German while she practices for a role in an upcoming play. This chance encounter shifts Karen's summer, and ultimately, her entire future. Before that day is done, she's tutored Biba in her first session, paid for the entire meal along with Biba's train ride home, and been invited to Biba's upcoming birthday party, where she meets Biba's brother, Rex.

The friendship between Karen, Biba, and Rex begins in the Capel's childhood home at Highgate in London, a crumbling mansion which has its own story to share. In a scant three months, Karen becomes a part of their tiny unit and she and Rex fall in love. It's an odd arrangement in the house, three people who are so very different. Biba is adventurous, wild, and recklessly charming. Rex is thoughtful, passionate in his protection of his sister and for those he cares about, his emotional strength making him a self-assured lover for Karen. And Karen, while innocent and naive to this new life, is drawn to the feeling of true friendship and real love. She's comfortable with spending her summer with these siblings, who have taught her more about life and ultimately, herself, than she ever thought possible. But there are secrets with the siblings, and even Karen has one years later, one that if the truth ever were to come out, could change everything. And mixed up in this is the unanswered question of who Rex killed, and why?

It is this very manner of slowly unfolding the story and all of its secrets that is so captivating. Expertly maneuvering between past and present, from one summer of 1998 to ten years later, Erin Kelly keeps the narrative quickly paced and easily engaging. It's a psychological thriller on the edge, a ticking time bomb of fierce passion, secrets, and insecurity which demands all attention to keep reading until the end unfurls with a sadness that was difficult to experience. I was left quite morose, impressed with the story and quiet for the characters' twisted and unfortunate paths taken. Without question, Erin Kelly's talent easily resonates with every page, the events and uncomfortable moments leaving you anxious to find out what happens next, and I will eagerly look for her next work. I highly recommend this book and encourage all who enjoy psychological thrillers, suspenseful reads, and mysteries to read it.

For audiobook lovers: I read this, but I wanted to hear how the narrator sounded. I listened to the five minute sample on audible.com and I really like the narrator's voice. Granted, it's only a snippet, so if anyone ends up listening to the audio, let me know what you think. The voice is what I imagined Karen to sound like.

Publisher: Penguin Group
Release Date: 1/6/2011
Pages: 336

About the Author
Erin Kelly was born in London and grew up in Essex. She read English at Warwick University and has been working as a journalist since 1998. She has written for newspapers including The Sunday Times, The Sunday Telegraph, the Daily Mail, and the Express, and magazines including Red, Psychologies, Marie Claire, Elle, and Cosmopolitan.

The Poison Tree is her first novel, and she has another book out entitled The Sick Rose. She lives in London with her husband and daughter.

Follow the author:
Do you want this book? The first person who comments with their email address (U.S. residents only), will get this shipped in the mail to them next week.
Others said:


  1. I enjoyed this one too. Such a cleverly plotted book! I look forward to reading her latest book soon.

  2. This looks really good! I'm adding this to my NOOK wish list.

  3. I have a copy of this one somewhere here and meant to read it last year. The author has a new book coming out in February called THE DARK ROSE. It sounds intriguing as well - 16th century English garden - secrets, guilt - sign me up! LOL

  4. Am I the first person with an email address to respond? If so, bellezza.mjs@gmail.com If not, I still enjoyed your review. Psychological thrillers, particularly with language, are so great! Love your new look, too.

  5. I've heard good things about this book but keep forgetting about it. I'll have to look out for it. Sounds great!

  6. I like the way you describe this book, and the mix of emotions that it elicited from you. It sounds as if there is a lot here to love, and I am anxious to see how I would feel about it. It sounds like it's got emotional nuance and depth in spades, and I am off to see if the library has this one. This was an excellent review, by the way. I loved reading your thoughts and impressions!

  7. This sounds really interesting! I haven't read a lot of suspenseful books, but I'll have to try this one!

  8. Bellezza - You're the first one to respond with email, so yes, ma'am, I'll contact you and send it right away! I hope you enjoy the book!

  9. I just got a copy of this yesterday and now I'm so excited to read it!

  10. This sounds like a real page turner! I'm wondering how I missed it at SIBA.

  11. I'm not usually a psychological thriller kind of girl. But this does sound fantastic. I am going to take a look!

  12. First off Natalie, your blog is lovely!
    Secondly, this book sounds really good. What a fantastic review: 'a ticking time bomb of fierce passion, secrets, and insecurity which demands all attention to keep reading until the end unfurls with a sadness that was difficult to experience'
    Thanks for the recommendation.

  13. What a lovely review! This sounds like an absolute must-read. This is the first time I have come across this book but I am definitely intrigued to find out what I make of it myself.

    Sam @ Realm of Ficton

  14. Interesting book...mystery, lies, and three very different people who are friends. What could go wrong? Thanks for the recommendation.

  15. I read your review and went on my library's website to put a hold on this one instantly. I CANNOT wait for it to come in now and I'm really looking forward to reading it. Great review!


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