THE POISON TREE by Tony Strong


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 Fleeing her divorce and the lesbian affair it's tumbled her into, ad executive Theresa Williams returns to Oxford to pick up her postgraduate work in detective fiction. But the house she purchases was the site of a grisly murder--undergrad Hugh Scott was burned to death by a soldering iron--whose consequences keep spreading like a contagion. Someone is still prowling the streets of Oxford raping and killing young men. Ensconced in her new home, Terry can't even plaster her bathroom wall without being visited, in rapid succession, by Emily Harris, Hugh's undergraduate lover; Carla Eden, a neighboring don's wife who'd also taken Hugh to bed, and is willing to do the same with Terry; Giles Chawker, a narcissistic stalwart of the Oxford crew equally intent on seducing Terry; Julia Van Glught, whose marriage to a children's-book author hasn't kept her away from Carla's husband Brian; and Brian Eden himself, the magnetic biographer Terry becomes rapidly convinced was Hugh's killer. When her rehabbing uncovers a cache of floridly pornographic letters, Terry's driven to put her interpretive skills to work, since le style, c'est l'homme. The punishing rounds of stylistic analysis that follow will drive a wedge between Terry and her latest lover, the police inspector in charge of the case, before finally revealing the whole sordid plot. Even more brutally than recent work by Peter Robinson and Ruth Rendell, Strong's debut mocks the age-old distinction between cozy and nasty, producing the lowest revelations about higher education you've ever seen.

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-385-31941-X
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Delacorte
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15th, 1997


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