Karen Clarke is on edge and trying to keep a grip on a life that is quickly unraveling. Rex Capel, the father of her daughter Alice, has just come home from prison where he served ten years for murder. After his release, Karen is determined that they have the best possible chance at a normal life, but sinister phone calls and a nosy reporter threaten to expose Karen’s family to danger and lingering secrets from the past.
The Poison Tree: A Novel, by Erin Kelly is a wonderfully absorbing debut novel that deftly navigates the past and present while keeping the reader in suspense about a murder that changed the lives of a group of friends. A sort of backward murder mystery, if you will, we know the identity of the killer, but what we don’t know is why he did it or whom he killed. The story unfolds in Karen’s first person narrative, and everyone the reader meets as Karen shares the story of their past, is a potential murder victim. The reader’s inquiring mind supplies plenty of dramatic tension through all the twists (some more easily guessed than others).
The characters in The Poison Tree are easily recognizable and familiar. Karen is an overachieving and class conscious student – a step behind, and in awe of her wealthy friends; Biba is a free spirited party girl who befriends and bewitches Karen; and Rex is Biba’s overprotective and passionate brother whom Karen eventually has a relationship. The summer that Karen spends with Biba and Rex is an eye opener for her, exposed as she is for the first time to a seemingly carefree bohemian existence, complete with drugs and wild parties. The shifting dynamics and emerging insecurities in the trio suggest so many possibilities that I was very easily sucked into their world.
The Poison Tree is a well-crafted psychological suspense novel and will definitely appeal if you have ever been a fan of murder mysteries set among close knit college students. Pick this one up when you have a good chunk of time to devote to it because after the initial chapters, it is very hard to put this one down. Recommended.