Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The Poison Tree” as Want to Read:
The Poison Tree
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

The Poison Tree

3.65  ·  Rating Details  ·  6,049 Ratings  ·  798 Reviews
It is the sweltering summer of 1997, and Karen is a straight-laced, straight-A university student. When she meets the impossibly glamorous Biba, a bohemian orphan who lives in a crumbling old mansion in Highgate with her enigmatic brother Rex, she is soon drawn into their world -- but something terrible is about to happen, and someone's going to end up dead. Already drawin ...more
Paperback, 352 pages
Published January 31st 2012 by Penguin Books (first published January 1st 2009)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about The Poison Tree, please sign up.

Popular Answered Questions

Crystal The Dark Rose is not related to this book, so you can read it first if you want. I loved The Poison Tree, but The Dark Rose has definitely been my…moreThe Dark Rose is not related to this book, so you can read it first if you want. I loved The Poison Tree, but The Dark Rose has definitely been my favorite book by Erin Kelly thus far. (less)
This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Add this book to your favorite list »

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  Rating Details

so i am giving this four stars because

1)there is no option for three-and-a-half
2)it was kind of the perfect book to suit my mood in the day-and-a-half it took me to read it
3)in the spectrum of "books that claim to be just like secret history" this one takes home high marks.

but really - it's just a fast-paced crime thriller and is not likely to stay with me for any real amount of time.

it gets points for having the central character named karen. and having her be a genius of languages. but
Following The Secret History, there has been an avalanche of books claiming to be like it or inspired by it. My attention was first drawn to The Poison Tree, after I read a review comparing it to The Secret History. My interest was immediately piqued because The Secret History, as some of you may know, is one of my all-time favorites.

Though many elements of the book are reminiscent of The Secret History, The Poison Tree manages to hold its own. It's mesmerizing, unsettling and shocking. It's def
Feb 07, 2011 Mary rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mystery-suspense
This book did not succeed for me, on several levels. Primarily I just didn't get the fascination the narrator, Karen, felt for the Capel siblings, Biba and Rex. Biba seemed spoiled and self-absorbed and Rex was jobless, wimpy, and ineffective at his self-appointed task of being Biba's caretaker. Their so-called Bohemian lifestyle was pretty tame by my child-of-the-70s's standards. There was drinking and a little pot-smoking, a couple hits of ectasy and a few lines of cocaine--hardly the drug-cra ...more
Jan 24, 2015 Lisa rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audio
3.5 stars

This drama/thriller/mystery(?) was fast paced and told a decent story with a satisfying twist.

Karen was a bit of a square at University specialising in languages for which she has a special gift. Her life was dull and safe until she met Biba a bohemian drama student whom she adored and whose lifestyle she coveted and adopted for one special summer.
Biba's brother Rex is completely different from Biba but he too drew Karen further into their world.

The beginning of the story is set in the
Jennifer Williams
Jan 12, 2011 Jennifer Williams rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jun 14, 2011 Vegantrav rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I seriously hope that Erin Kelly, the author of The Poison Tree, is not one of those writers who read the reviews of their books here at Goodreads (as I know some writers do) because I really did not like this book at all. I feel as if I have been robbed of the opportunity to read good novels by wasting my time reading this dreck.

The Poison Tree is promoted as a brilliant, mysterious thriller. It is not.

It is an excercise in emotionally overwrought tedium and long-winded ridiculousness. It attem
When I originally rated this book, the author "thanked" me on Twitter for my review. I could not tell if it was a serious or sarcastic thank you . . . Her followers were not very happy with me!

I am sure that some people will like this book a lot, but it seemed very contrived, forced, and unbelievable. It is in a genre that has been hit or miss for me (the "books-like-Gone-Girl" genre)
Jan 21, 2014 Anna rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Naïve Karen. Hedonistic Biba. Respsonsible Rex. One long hot summer. Two dead bodies. A life time of secrets.

The Poison Tree is narrated by Karen, both in the past and present. A decade earlier, she’s sensibly coming to the end of her degree when she meets the exotic Biba and her brother Rex. Mesmerised by Biba, Karen is seduced into a bohemian summer of love, drugs and parties in an old crumbling mansion. Feeling free for the first time in her life, she embraces her new experiences, becoming e
Dec 12, 2015 Can rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

Ben bu kitabı okurken diyordum ki eh idare eder üç puanlık bir kitap...
100 sayfa geçince ben bütün karakterlere ısınmaz mıyım?!?!? Plot twist üzerine plot twistten ölmez miyim!?!?! Yazarın diline aşık olmaz mıyım?!?!? Stephen King'in dediği kadar olan bir kitap... Şu an kafam iyi değil daha yeni bitirdim ama o son... Pegasus Yayınlarına da cömertliği ve gönderdiği için teşekkürler... Tur için olduğu için kesin kötü olur diyodum...
Jun 11, 2012 Judith rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
At the very beginning of this book, the reader learns that Karen is picking up her husband, Rex, who just served a 10-year term for murder. In the car with her is their daughter, Alice. The story unfolds with alternating chapters: present day and the summer ten years ago when the murder took place. Present day: Karen and Rex attempting to adjust to their new life and problems such as pesky journalists, Rex' s learning about the modern world outside and trying to find work, living in a small hous ...more
The Poison Tree had been on my Amazon wishlist for months, and this sunny weekend I finally decided to treat myself to it. I was happy to find that, true to my expectations, it was hugely readable, so much that I'd finished it within 24 hours of my purchase. The book is divided up into two stories, flipping back and forth between the long, hot summer of 1997 and the present day. Both are narrated by Karen; in the 1997 story, she is a naive 20-year-old and, having recently finished her degree, be ...more
Bridgit Barger
Mar 05, 2016 Bridgit Barger rated it liked it
Shelves: 2016, 3-star-reads
I'm ultimately glad I read this mystery, I did find many of the twists fairly predictable and unoriginal. I do look forward to reading more from Erin Kelly, however... her writing style was addicting and fast-paced!
Nov 20, 2014 Melissa rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ladies-writin
I'm slowly working my way through Karen's books-claiming-to-be-just-like-secret-history shelf, although if I made such a shelf I'd have to switch it to The Likeness because I read that before The Secret History. The thing about these books is that the characters which the narrator is drawn to have got to be alluring & likable & you must feel sucked helplessly into their twisted little worlds. This book did not work for me on that level at all. I never liked Biba & I never bought the ...more
Lolly K Dandeneau
Eh. I enjoyed a few chapters. Karen meets Biba and is enthralled by her life, and falls too for her strange brother Rex. Drugs, parties, characters, rambling old house and suicidal tendencies. We know disaster will strike soon as foreshadowed throughout the novel in flashbacks. I had a hard time with Rex, because I couldn't decide what the writer wanted him to be, damaged and neurotic or mature and sensitive? Biba was your typical beautiful wild child much overplayed in literature. Karen was mor ...more
Mar 02, 2011 Carol rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Erin Kelly's Poison Tree is publicized as a "tight psychological thriller". I'd drop the word thriller as this denotes to me a more fast paced tempo than is the case here. I'd read it alone for its in depth psychological character study. Erin Kelly gets this just right. Beginning at the end, the story flashes backwards and forwards in a space of ten years, rapidly and without warning, and yet it is easy to follow. I quickly became engrossed with the three main characters, Karen, Biba and Rex. I ...more
C.E. Trueman
Aug 21, 2011 C.E. Trueman rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In The Poison Tree, Erin Kelly creates an assortment of compelling and convincing characters.

A year into her university degree, studious linguist Karen Clarke, the sensible and conservative narrator of the story, finds herself drawn into the chaotic and bohemian world of vivacious but self centred wannabe actress Biba Capel and her over protective brother Rex who live on their own in a ramshackle house in London following abandonment by their famous photographer father and the resulting suicide
Ruth Turner

This wasn't a bad read, but it wasn't a particularly good one either.

Most of the book I found a little tedious, but then the last chapter takes off, and before I knew it I was finished and left feeling "so that's it?"

The story goes back and forth between the present and the events that happened ten years ago. I had difficulty throughout the book figuring out where I was. The formatting in the e-book edition I read was a nightmare. All the lines were double spaced so it was difficult to tell whe
Wayland Smith
Karen Clarke has a potentially brilliant future ahead of her. She's amazingly gifted at languages, impressing her college teachers. Aside from that one gift, she's a very ordinary young woman. She's never broken a rule, never done anything wrong, and even her father teases her and calls her middle aged at twenty.

Her whole life changes when she meets a woman who goes by "Biba." The striking young woman is an actress in need of a dialect coach, and Karen falls for her and into her orbit. Karen's w
Margaret Madden
Dec 07, 2014 Margaret Madden rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: books-i-own
When asked to pick a novel for our bookclub, this debut from Erin Kelly was the first that came to mind. It has been on my wishlist since its release in 2010 and I remember reading the most wonderful reviews in the newspapers. Only a couple of the members of our bookclub would be avid thriller readers, and I knew this was a perfect opportunity to get this genre introduced again.

Karen is a language student in a run-of-the-mill college, her days are dull, her manner reserved and her boyfriend and
Dec 14, 2011 Pamela rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviewed
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Kathy Hiester
May 02, 2011 Kathy Hiester rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Poison tree is well-written, psychological thriller, one that just cries out to be read and discussed. Although I found it a bit disconcerting with early chapters switching between two time periods, it is really essential in the storyline. This ploy simply increases the building suspense as the story unfolds.

An unusual storyline from the voice of the protagonist, Karen Clarke, a young normal girl who just happens to be fluent in several languages, and throw her suddenly into a completely di
Aug 19, 2011 Yamma rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jun 16, 2012 ms.pointy rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: new
This is one of those books where everything in the first half is all portentous foreshadowing--the characters living out the consequences of some unimaginable past horror only hinted at in passing (but set in, you know, the bohemian London world of a second-tier university of the late 90s; it was a terrible time before cell phones). This narrative style totally can work (e.g., The House at Riverton by Kate Morton, although I can't stomach any of her other work), but, in the end, with such a limi ...more
Lisbeth Davies
Dec 06, 2012 Lisbeth Davies rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Collette, Nancy, Donna, Maria
Recommended to Lisbeth by: Can't remember
An outstanding psychological thriller!

The dogs almost didn't get their daily walk because of this book - having stayed up until silly o'clock on day 1, I kept sneaking off the computer the following day to snatch "just another few pages" until finally I got an uninterrupted block of time to finish it tonight. Phew.

If you enjoys the novels of Sophie Hannah, Nicci French, Tana French et al then Erin Kelly's books are definitely for you.

Once I've sorted out the Christmas budget, I'll undoubtedly su
Sarah Sandfort Schultz
Jun 18, 2012 Sarah Sandfort Schultz rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2011
I kept reading bc it had that annoying structure where you know from the beginning that a murder has been committed, but you don't know who did it or who was murdered, so I kept reading bc I wanted to know....but that is a bummer of a technique unless the ending is REALLY GOOD. It wasn't. It feels like a sneaky literary trick. The characters had promise, but not enough. So many good books to read, I suggest skipping this one (I'll tell you the ending if you need to know...).
“I have given up so much and done so many terrible things already for the sake of my family that I can only keep going. I do not know what is going to happen to us. I am frightened, but I feel strong. I have the strength of a woman who has everything to lose.”-pg. 3, The Poison Tree by Erin Kelly

All of her life, Karen seems to have done the ‘right’ thing and followed a predictable path given her natural propensity for foreign language. College is a no-brainer as well which will probably lead to
Really this is a 3.5 for me. I remember making a friend at some point during college that fascinated me almost to the point of obsession. Not quite to obsession, maybe, but I definitely had a huge crush on her. I loved those parts of the book, and Biba was nothing like my friend but reminiscent of her just the same. The rest went uphill from there.
Barbara Beswick
Jul 11, 2016 Barbara Beswick rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I think I liked this book. I say 'think' because can it be considered likeable when, approximately 70% of it left me inwardly groaning, tutting and pffhhh'ing at the frustratingly put-upon Karen? Yes it can! It was good, - I know that as I read it morning noon and night. The only reason it took five days to read was due to a very busy and exhausting weekend falling slap bang in the middle. At 50% in, I thought I recognised it as having being on television?(Now know it has) This seedy saga left m ...more
Jeanette Stingley
The Poison Tree is one of the best debut novels I have read in the past couple of years. Author Erin Kelly has really set the bar high for herself. In this novel we explore the world of laid back, free spirited college kids whose lives get turned upside down.

The book actually begins near the end of the story, then switches back to this carefree and exciting life, time and time again. Normally, I do not like books that switch each chapter back and forth between present and past because it can be
Larry Hoffer
Mar 25, 2012 Larry Hoffer rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Language student Karen Clarke has a stable life, if not a particularly exciting one. She lives in a luxurious off-campus apartment with three friends, they play a lot of tennis, socialize with their boyfriends, and follow a fairly organized pattern. Just before her last year of college ends, Karen meets Biba Capel, a flamboyant aspiring actress, who quickly fascinates and draws Karen into her world. Karen moves into the dilapidated mansion Biba shares with her older brother, Rex, and any number ...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 99 100 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • The House at Midnight
  • The Lessons
  • Everything and Nothing
  • Darkside
  • The Secrets Between Us
  • The Twisted Thread
  • Kept in the Dark
  • The Summer of the Bear
  • The Blasphemer
  • The Death Instinct (Freud, #2)
  • The Year of the Gadfly
  • Daisy in Chains
  • Brodmaw Bay
  • Blood Harvest
  • Next of Kin (Scott Finn #4)
  • House of Silence
  • The Confession of Katherine Howard
  • You're Next
Erin Kelly was born in London in 1976 and grew up in Essex. She read English at Warwick University and has been working as a journalist since 1998.

She has written for newspapers including the The Sunday Times, The Sunday Telegraph, the Daily Mail and the Express and magazines including Red, Psychologies, Marie Claire, Elle and Cosmopolitan.

More about Erin Kelly...

Share This Book

“ I blocked it from my mind. I could do that with things I didn't want to think about, like snapping shut a book.” 2 likes
“Daybreak,' he said, looking out at it. 'I always thought it was funny that dawn should be called daybreak. This is when the day is made - it's the beginning. I'ts the best part: you've got all the potential of the day to come, and you haven't wasted yet. When it gets dark, that should be daybreak. When the day is broken. When it turns into night time, that's when it all start's to go wrong.” 0 likes
More quotes…