From the prologue onwards, The Poison Tree was a riveting read; both atmospheric and enjoyable. The story is told from the perspective of Karen and straddles two periods a decade apart. In 1997, having just finished her degree, Karen encounters a young actress, Biba, and is quickly drawn into her bohemian lifestyle. She spends the summer living in Biba's ramshackle house and growing closer to Biba's brother, Rex. It's no secret to say (since the blurb reveals as much) that two people end the summer dead, changing Karen's life forever. In the more recent timeline, Rex is released from prison and struggles to adjust to his new life with Karen and their daughter, Alice. Karen is also on edge, having been on the receiving end of silent phone calls recently.
There's not much more I can say about the plot without ruining it. But I will say that the twists and turns certainly kept my attention. Throughout the 1997 story there are hints about what's to come but since Kelly piles discord on top of discord, it's impossible to see where the eventual danger will emerge from. I enjoyed just following Karen through the summer and trying to work out exactly what was going to happen. I couldn't and that's exactly how a good novel should be.
Karen is effectively an average, though talented, student when we first meet her. Her foray into Biba's world works because we experience the new and bizarre as Karen does. We can understand why Karen's so intrigued by the odd brother and sister pair and their associates. However, I think the reader has more reservations about Biba from the start than Karen does. Entranced by her new friend, Karen seems content to be allowed into her world, however she's treated. Biba is actually a complex and surprising character. Whatever she does feels real and her actions are always foreshadowed. Rex, I have to say, is a lovely but troubled man and was possibly my favourite character, despite the fact I didn't like him much at the beginning. All of the supporting characters are well-rounded, from Karen's parents down to the tutor we only meet once.
What struck me particularly about this novel, though, was the evocation of 1997 London. The accuracy of detail along with the sights, smells and noises discussed help to create a place - and therefore novel - that leaps from the page and feels real.
As you can probably tell, I loved this book. Several days after finishing, I'm still thinking about it. I look forward to reading more of Kelly's work in the future.