The Poison Tree by Erin Kelly

In the sweltering summer of 1997, strait-laced, straight-A student Karen met Biba – a bohemian and impossibly gorgeous aspiring actress.

She was quickly drawn into Biba’s world, and for a while life was one long summer of love.

But every summer must end. By the end of theirs, two people were dead – and now Karen’s past has come back to haunt her…

I picked this up in the library, and after reading the back cover realised that I’d seen the TV adaptation of it a couple of years ago. I’d forgotten most of the story though so I brought it on holiday with me.

It alternates between a narrative of the present and flashbacks to a summer 10 years ago. These flashbacks all lead up to the main mystery of the plot – why, and how, did two people end up dead?

The protagonist, Karen, is a very ‘normal’ girl, living a ‘normal’ life as a student in London. Until she meets Biba. Biba is exciting, flamboyant and completely at odds with the life Karen is used to. Karen soon realises how boring her own world is and becomes almost obsessed with becoming part of Biba’s.

Biba shares a large old house with her brother, Rex, and various hippy friends. They throw parties with loud music, alcohol and drugs. When Rex’s ex girlfriend, Nina, moves out, Karen moves in for the summer. They spend their days doing nothing, drinking wine in the evenings and sleeping in late. This level of absolute freedom is unknown to Karen, who has spent most of her life working hard until now.

The blissful summer ends abruptly with the death of two people but Karen’s involvement with Biba continues on much longer than just one summer.

The carefree atmosphere of relaxation in a large house during a long, hot summer with no rules or purpose, leading up to a catastrophic event reminds me of another book I’ve read recently – A Fatal Inversion by Ruth Rendell writing under the pseudonym of Barbara Vine. So if you give this book a go, and enjoy it, I’d recommend that one too.

4/5

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