The Poison Tree by Erin Kelly
Pamela Dorman • $26.95 • ISBN 9780670022403
On sale January 10, 2011

the poison tree by erin kelly

January and February are usually big months for releasing debut novels, and this year is no exception. One of the most anticipated of the bunch is Erin Kelly's The Poison Tree, a novel billed as a dark, Donna-Tartt-like story of a university (yes, it takes place in England) friendship gone wrong. Narrator Karen has just picked up her old friend Rex from a 10-year stint in prison as The Poison Tree opens, and from there the reader is taken on a ride that veers between the present and the past as the mystery of Rex's crime unfolds.

In this excerpt, Karen has just met and agreed to tutor the captivating Biba, sister to Rex, and they've gone to seal the deal in the university bar. Kelly sets the scene while maintaining suspense, never letting the reader forget that the book is moving toward a dark revelation:

"Can you buy a bottle of red, darling? A Merlot if they've got it," she said, and I wondered how someone whose voice and bag suggested an expensive education and a credit card could be too poor to afford student bar prices. "It's so much cheaper than by the glass, and we won't have to keep going to the bar." Red wine had always given me headaches, but I ordered it then, and because Biba and Rex drank little else, I trained myself to like it that summer. I have never had a sip of it since, though. For me, the bouquet of rich red wine is now indivisible from another smell, metallic and warm and meaty all at once, one that summons up a slideshow of frozen images in my mind like a series of photographs in a police incident room.

What are you reading this week?

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