The Poison Tree
Erin Kelly
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Buy *The Poison Tree* by Erin Kelly online

The Poison Tree
Erin Kelly
352 pages
January 2012
rated 4 1/2 of 5 possible stars

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A toxic blend of adulation and envy permeate Kellyís riveting melodrama. In this complex psychological novel, murderous intrigue and frustrated ambition hemorrhage through the life of Karen Clarke, a gifted language student who, back in 1997, moved into the Highgate Hill house of exotic Biba and Rex Capel.

In a story of "a weird wild girl, living in a filthy house with a creepy brother," Karen looks back on that hot, humid summer and the tipping point between innocence and experience. She recalls the swaggering heat, the ecstasy-fueled parties, Bibaís chaotic glamour amid a crumbling, urban castle that descends into chaos as a circle of devastation fans out around her.

Moving forward ten years, an increasingly paranoid Karen is drawing the metaphorical curtains around her life. We know that something catastrophic and painful has occurred; itís Kelly's gift as a storyteller that she can subtly maneuver the chain of events that led Karen to where she is now. All we see is Karenís guilt at her failure to protect Rex even as she resolves to look after him now that he has been released from prison.

Karenís complex friendship with Biba shapes the early sections of this novel, her fate sealed the second she sees Biba. Living in a shared house with a group of privileged but distant roommates, Karen takes up Biba's offer of German-accent tutoring. Biba seems so alive with potential, her infectious laughter and sparkling brown eyes almost as seductive as her cultured and sophisticated voice.

Once Karen steps foot into Biba and Rexís ramshackle house, she discovers the darker facets of the Capel family history. The perceived glamour, money, and bohemian life have for years been poisoned by the uncaring nature Roger Capel, the family patriarch always angry and silent over the legacy of their home.

Given Bibaís erratic temperament, itís impossible to predict what will happen next. As each chapter unfurls more doom-laden than the last, a poisonous tree bleeds outwards. The desperate Biba and Rex, who have no reserves to draw on and nowhere to go, are blinded by their past. Drawing on her deepest reserves, Karen spends weeks chipping away at Bibaís secret history, but as attention and affection slowly transfer from sister to brother, it is Rex who transforms into Karen's perfect lover.

Karen becomes a major player in the tragedy, her connection to this family drawing her deeper into murky territory. Puddled in moonlight and drunk on love, time does not lessen the odds in Karenís favor. Filled with a disquiet, paranoid mood, The Poison Tree is British suspense fiction at its best, a grim peek into family dysfunction and a stark reminder of the lengths to which people will go to protect what is theirs.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Michael Leonard, 2011

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