Erin Kelly

The Poison Tree

"'...a sumptuous feast of the senses...'"


It is the summer of 1997. Britain has started its love affair with the new Prime Minister when tragedy strikes and one of the most beloved women of all time is killed in an accident in Paris. As events in Britain unfold and a tumult of emotion flows from the British public, other events are happening, events that won’t start an outpouring of grief from the nation, but will have consequences that will echo down the years to the present day for those involved.

It looked as though it was going to be a dull summer as Karen wondered what she was going to do with herself. All through her university years she had lived in Suburban comfort with her three girlfriends, a boring boyfriend and studying for her straight-A pass. It is only when she meets Biba that Karen finally begin to enjoy the fruits of being young and free. As the summer progresses and Karen moves in to the large house in Highgate with Biba and her brother, Rex does Karen realise that living with such an unpredictable personality like Biba can have its drawbacks as well as its advantages. Very soon, as the bouquets mount up at Kensington Palace in tribute to a Princess snatched away from her admiring public, Karen is soon caught up in her own drama – one that will not change Britain but will have repercussions for her for many years to come.

And now, years later Rex is out of prison and is trying to cope with life outside four walls and living again with Karen and their daughter, Alice. But not everything is all rosy when Karen begins to get mysterious phone calls – calls where nobody speaks on the other end of the line. And then one night the voice mutters something that threatens to bring Karen’s life crashing down around her and flings her back to that hot summer where the idyll suddenly died.

Purchase the book from Amazon.


The year 1997 is one of those years that will never be forgotten by the people who were there. Tony Blair had just thrown the Tories out of No. 10 and just as the love was flourishing another, even stronger love was snuffed out. Ask anyone, and they will have that ‘JFK’ moment, when they know exactly where they were and what they were doing when they heard that Diana, Princess of Wales had been killed in a car crash. I will always remember all the radio stations being silent in her honour. Building The Poison Tree around the summer of such startling events is extremely clever on the writer’s part as it brings to the fore of the reader powerful emotions that are conjured up by the wonderful writing and detailed descriptions. The author is very knowledgeable about London and its geography and obviously, through the writing, her love of the City is paramount. I loved the fact that the house in Queenswood Lane despite being in the centre of London, feels slightly out of a fairy tale with its enchanted wood surrounding it. For me this worked because it wasn’t just another house in the City, but a rambling old mansion house tucked away, forgotten almost in a pocket of London that people don’t normally see. And I enjoyed the way the author makes the house very much ‘one of the characters’ in the novel. The insufferable Biba - childlike, exasperating, totally unreliable and annoying in different measures, is obviously the catalyst for all that transpires. The author is able to explain Biba's shallow personality by making her an actress (we’ve all known one at some time or other) and giving her an artistic background. Her relentless unreliability is exacerbated by her brother’s over-protectiveness. But despite her downfalls, Kelly also manages to make Biba exciting, enigmatic, assured of her own sexuality and sensuality and ultimately a ticking time bomb! The Poison Tree isn’t one of those novels you can rush. You must bathe in its luxurious prose – drift off as if lying in a scented bath, back to the summer of 1997 and there taste the words that describe the heat, Karen’s newfound awareness of youth, the loss of youth and the ultimate loss of the country of another young mother. It all adds up to a sumptuous feast of the senses, one like the veritable box of chocolates - each one must be relished and never rushed.

Reviewed By: