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Book 89: The Sick Rose by Erin Kelly

Book 89: The Sick Rose.
Author: Erin Kelly, 2011.
Genre: Psychological Thriller.
Other Details: Hardback. 352 pages.

"You kept my secret. I know yours now. That makes us even"

Paul has been led into a life of crime by his schoolyard protector, Daniel - but one night what started as petty theft escalates fatally. Now, at nineteen, Paul must bear witness against his friend to avoid imprisonment. Louisa has her own dark secrets. Having fled from them many years ago she now spends her days steeped in history, renovating the grounds of a crumbling Elizabethan mansion. But her fragile peace is shattered when she meets Paul; he's the image of the one person she never thought she'd see again. A relationship develops between them, and Louisa starts to believe she can experience the happiness she had given up on; but it soon becomes apparent that neither of them can outrun their violent past . . .
- synopsis from UK publisher's website.

This proved to be another highly effective psychological thriller from Erin Kelly in which a woman is haunted by a difficult relationship from her late teenage years that still impacts upon the present some twenty years later. Then she meets Paul, who comes to work on the garden restoration project that she is overseeing while he is waiting to testify in a murder trial. Their relationship develops quite organically as both are outsiders and troubled by the secrets they hold.

I enjoyed Erin's slow reveal of the events of the past moving between Louisa in 1989 and Paul earlier in 2009 as well as how the chemistry between Louisa and Paul sparked changes for them. I don't want to say too much about how it ended except that Erin Kelly delivered a double whammy. In addition to a strong plot and complex characters, Erin Kelly infuses her novels with a strong sense of place; whether it be Warwickshire, Essex or the streets of London in the late 1980s. I know from attending her talks that she does walk the streets of her locations and then brings them to life via her rich descriptions. Kensington Market, now sadly demolished, was a highlight for me as it evoked memories of my time in London during the 1970-80s when this was a major centre of alternative culture

This was a library reading group selection and there was a mixed reaction, as indeed there often is. Still this difference in opinions resulted in a lively discussion about the motivations of the characters and various plot points. One key issue was whether the age and class difference between the characters was a barrier to accepting them as a couple. Was it a case of arrested development for her? For myself, the fact that Louisa was somewhat frozen in time since the events of 1989, did explain aspects of the attraction.

Quite a few members chose to borrow her next novel which suggests that they wanted more and there was also interest shown in her first novel The Poison Tree, which I have read a couple of times and rate very highly.

In the USA this was published as The Dark Rose, which struck me as an odd choice as it abandons the William Blake reference as well as an aspect of rose gardening that Louisa makes in the course of the novel that proves an important metaphor for her relationships.
Tags: contemporary, period fiction (20th century), suspense, thriller
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