There are some books you read because they are classics, there are some books you read because you love the author's previous novels, there are some books you read based on the recommendation of a trusted friend. But The Sick Rose (or The Dark Rose depending where in the world you are) is a first for me, as I have to admit that I bought it after someone from Hollyoaks mentioned it on Twitter. I already have a copy of Erin Kelly's first novel, The Poison Tree, on my TBR. I can't remember what exactly the tweet in question said but it must have been a pretty tempting 140 characters to make me pick this one up first.
Paul is 19, and should be looking forward to an exciting and happy few years at university. Instead, he faces a long winter of manual work and community service in the gardens of Kelstice House after getting mixed up in a terrible crime back at home. Louisa is the skilled botanist leading the project - from a wealthy background and approaching middle age, to the outside world she appears to be happy and settled in her chosen role. But underneath her cool exterior she is an emotional wreck, haunted by events in her past. The two of them form a bond, each recognising the other as a kindred spirit with something to hide. The shadow of the past lingers over their relationship and there is a constant fear that the skeletons in their respective closets will catch up with them.
The derelict Kelstice House with its overgrown gardens provides a really atmospheric and moody setting. Although I am not a fan of this phrase I can safely describe this novel as 'a page-turner'. It kept me up late and I read it in big chunks. The narrative effortlessly flits back and forward between the past and the present day and between the two characters' lives, never feeling stilted or confusing. There are plenty of twists to keep the reader guessing and I didn't see a single one of them coming - not least the ending, which holds surprises until the very last line, and provides a very satisfying conclusion.
I really enjoyed reading Paul's story; it was so sad to see how such an intelligent and conscientious young man could have his life turned upside down through making a few wrong decisions. His impressive and unrelenting loyalty to his childhood friend turns out to be a double-edged sword that gets him in more trouble than he can imagine. I really felt for him and hoped that everything would turn out for the best in his life.
On the other hand, I felt that something was slightly amiss with Louisa's character. Her teenage years are very realistic and Kelly paints a truly convincing picture of a confident and sexually adventurous young woman. However, for me, the adult Louisa lacks warmth. At first I could accept that this reflects the overwhelming and all-encompassing nature of her feelings for her ex-lover Adam, and that her obsession with this failed romance leaves no room for anything else in her life. However, even after she tentatively begins her relationship with Paul we see little change in her personality. I did not like her and found it difficult to understand the attraction she held for Paul.
I enjoyed seeing the mysteries of the plot unravel. Unfortunately I was less interested in the protagonists' relationship and struggled to believe in them as a couple. This was where the novel fell a little flat for me. However my opinions may all be inconsequential; having just publicly identified myself as a Hollyoaks fan, is anybody going to be able to take any of my reviews seriously ever again?!