“When a new rose is planted on the same spot as an old one, you get a sick rose; it doesn’t bloom and it’ll probably die. No one really knows why, but it’s not worth replanting.”
These are the ominous words of Louisa, 39 year old botanical expert and one of the two main protagonists of Erin Kelly’s second psychological thriller. Louisa is striving to restore a Tudor garden at Kelstice House in Warwickshire but distraction comes in the shape of Paul, a 19 year old who the police have relocated prior to his crucial testimony in an upcoming murder trial. Both characters are haunted by past events and it would appear that their future happiness is as doomed as the sick rose.
This is an extremely clever, well structured novel, with the author gliding effortlessly between the eighties, early noughties and present day to gradually reveal Louisa and Paul’s back stories. Indeed, lots of chapters end in cliffhangers, teasing the reader who has to wait on edge until the story returns to that particular time frame. I didn’t find any of the characters especially likeable but they’re very real with their own particular flaws – Louisa, living in the past and trying to rekindle the passion of a long dead relationship; Paul, whose vacillation throws him headlong from one disaster to another. My only minor quibble would be that the ending/epilogue felt slightly contrived but then again, endings can be a bit of a bugbear for me. That aside, this is a compelling read, one which will keep the reader gripped until the very last word.
This is my first experience of Erin Kelly’s work but I will now be swiftly acquiring her debut novel, The Poison Tree (more horticultural references?) and also investigating William Blake’s poetry having discovered his poem, The Sick Rose, en route!