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Book 3: The Poison Tree by Erin Kelly.

Book 3: The Poison Tree.
Author: Erin Kelly, 2010.
Genre: Psychological Thriller. England 1990s.
Other Details: Hardback. 352 pages.

"It was the summer when the Spice Girls were inescapable; most of the university's female students had declared a fashion allegiance to one or other of the singers, .... The girl before me appeared to be dressed like all five of them at once."

I first heard of this novel in a 'compare the covers' entry on the Eurocrime blog and thought its premise (and cover) looked interesting so sought it out at my local library. It proved a winner all round.

The story shifts between 2007 and the summer of 1997, when the main events of the novel take place. Karen Clarke is a quiet, serious-minded linguistics student preparing for her final exams. She shares a house with three friends and the others all decide to spend the summer abroad, leaving Karen behind as the housesitter. She actually doesn't mind this as she has recently met Biba, a glamorous drama student. It was a chance meeting at a noticeboard as Biba was seeking someone to tutor her in German for an upcoming play. Karen jumps at the opportunity, offering her skills.

Biba is Karen's polar opposite, charismatic and Bohemian. She and her slightly older brother, Rex, live in a rather dilapidated Victorian mansion at the edge of Queen's Wood, Highgate. Karen forms an immediate crush on the other girl and while oblivious to this, Biba happily incorporates Karen into their chaotic lives. So begins a hazy summer full of wild parties, wine and sex. Karen is like a moth to a flame.

You just know things are not going to turn out well, especially as the cover has warned the reader 'by the end of the summer two of them would die'. The author describes it not as a 'whodunit' but as a 'whowasitdunto', which is a very good way to look at it as the identity of who has just been released from prison in the present day is stated on the first pages.

It is a smashing début novel, well-written and dripping with suspense and the Gothic atmosphere of that part of London. The details of what took place in the summer of 1997 are revealed slowly as well as the ramifications of those events in the current day. I certainly shall be keeping an eye out for more of Erin Kelly's writings.

Erin Kelly's website - with video trailer for book.
Tags: british, gothic novels, mystery, suspense
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