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The Poison Tree

3.64 of 5 stars 3.64  ·  rating details  ·  4,445 ratings  ·  683 reviews
From an incredible new voice in psychological suspense, a novel about the secrets that remain after a final bohemian summer of excess turns deadly.

This taut psychological thriller begins when Karen and her nine-year- old daughter, Alice, pick up Rex from a ten-year stint in prison for murder. Flash back to the sultry summer in 1990s London when Karen, a straight-A studen...more
Hardcover, 336 pages
Published January 6th 2011 by Pamela Dorman Books (first published June 10th 2010)
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Community Reviews

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karen
hmm...

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...more
Misha
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...more
Mary
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
Jennifer Williams
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Vegantrav
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...more
Anna
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...more
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...more
Lolly LKH
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
Judith
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
Melissa
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
Kathy Hiester
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...more
Connie
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Carol
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
Yamma
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
C.E. Trueman
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...more
Blair
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
Sarah Sandfort Schultz
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...).
Erika
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.
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...more
Joe Murray
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Pamela
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Larry Hoffer
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
John
I enjoyed the book very much, it is a pageturner.
Together with Karen, a young student with a bright future, we are drawn into the world of the two siblings Biba and Rex. Biba is an excentric drama student and Rex a protective brother and unemployed, both children of a rich and famous artist, who has decided, after his first wifes suicide, to start a new life with a new wife and new children.
Karen ends up moving in with Biba and Rex in a big old house in Hampstead, giving up her plans of going...more
Erin M
I received this book through a Goodreads First Reads Giveaway, and was cautiously excited to dive into it. I was drawn to the book because it was touted as "Tana French meets Donna Tart," which, for a debut novel, is quite a lot to live up to. The Poison Tree far exceeded all my expectations.

The Poison Tree is one of those books where I kept finding myself in the space between wanting to devour it in one sitting, and wanting to draw it out so it would never end. Kelly immediately draws you into...more
Annette
While The Poison Tree is a slow paced, character driven novel, there are a few plot twists that genuinely surprised me.

The Poison Tree focuses on Karen in the present day and flashes back to her past to explain the present. You see, Karen has just reunited with Rex after his 10 year prison stay, and along with their daughter, Alice, they are trying to become a family. The reader quickly figures out that Rex was in prison for murder, and the ensuing flashbacks are going to explain the who, why, a...more
Kim
GREAT psych mystery/thriller!

Don't give up on this after the first few chapters~! I liked it okay but wasn't 'gelling' with the story or characters until maybe the 4th chapter. At that point you really begin to see the characters for who they are & you begin to understand them as you would your close personal friends. The story begins to engulf you & it is very difficult to put down.

The plot itself is not a completely unique one, but the connection you form with the characters is what...more
Tompopaageo
This is probably one of the best thrillers I've read in a while. The characters were engaging and unlikable at the same time, but the overall story was one that drew me in and kept the pages turning long after I should have been in the land of nod.

The twists and turns in the narrative didn't feel contrived, and I didn't see them coming (well I had an inkling about one of them but no 'I knew it' moment).

The only thing that bothered me about the book was the number of Americanisms. I understand a...more
Natalie
I was fascinated by this story from beginning to end. The story jumps back and forth between the present and the past, but Ms. Kelly's style makes it easy to keep up...most of the time. Admittedly, there were moments where I would read the opening of a paragraph two or three times before I felt comfortable in the time frame the characters were in, but part of that had to do with being unfamiliar with London. The periods are separated by not only by time, but by location, and a familiarity with t...more
Becky
I read this book because my friend Katie gave it 5 stars and we almost always like the same books. For that, I'm really grateful to both Katie and GoodReads because I loved this book.

I'm a voracious consumer of mysteries and suspense. I'll basically read anything that contains clues. So I read a LOT of trashy mystery and suspense novels. Because of that, when I come across a suspense novel where the writing is actually really good, and the characters are well drawn, and the story keeps me guessi...more
Jacqueline
I can't believe this book was sitting on my bookshelf for months. I will now have to re-think my entire mental to-read list.

Karen, the embodiment of a studious over-achiever, who drifts through a life of exams and textbooks, meets Biba, a bohemian free spirit whose existence involves drinking and raging parties in her ramshackle mansion. The two couldn't be more different, but Biba represents the very freedom and independence that Karen had always desired. One glorious summer of sex, drugs and...more
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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...
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