…and I was a little disappointed with the ending. I loved the rest of the book, loved how Erin Kelly captured the “lost summer” feel of the London in 1997, loved how she described Queen’s Wood in North London and gave it an almost enchanted feel.
Just to give you an overview, The Poison Tree starts with straight-A student Karen meeting the glamorous bohemian Biba one fateful afternoon near the end of her final year of university. What starts as what seems like a one-off encounter quickly changes into a life-altering summer for Karen, Biba and Rex–Biba’s brother whom Karen falls in love with.
The pacing in the story is slow, brooding almost–which is perfect for the mood Kelly is trying to establish. Of course there’s the usual foreshadowing statements you get in suspense novels, which didn’t bother me one bit. Like I said, I really enjoyed the book…until I came to the last two chapters. For me, it felt like the ending was rushed. I should warn you….there’s a spoiler coming so don’t read any further if you’re planning on reading the book… I didn’t believe in Karen’s reaction–at least, not in the way the ending played out–because it felt completely out of character. Yes, she was caught in an insane situation but somehow I don’t believe she would resort to murder, even for the sake of keeping up appearances and holding her family together. Perhaps I could have bought it more if she seemed more like she was coming undone. She was tense, yes, from keeping lies straight once Rex came out of prison and because she thought they were being stalked by a reporter, but otherwise she didn’t seem like she was on the verge of doing anything so rash and final.
I get the feeling Erin Kelly was influenced very much by the writing style of Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vine. There are moments when it feels like reading one of the early Barbara Vine novels because there is that same almost claustrophobic feel and the intimacy with the narrator. There’s also a hint of Rebecca to the book with Biba (who is absent and presumed dead throughout most of the “now” scenes in the book) functioning as the idealized Rebeccaesque character.
So would I recommend that you read The Poison Tree? Sure, it’s a good summer read that has great atmosphere and character development. This was Kelly’s debut novel so I’ll give her latest novel, The Sick Rose, as try. Maybe I’ll pick it up when I go to London at the weekend.