Kelly, Erin – ‘The Dark Rose’
Hardback: 336 pages (Feb. 2012) Publisher: Pamela Dorman Books ISBN: 0670023280
This very absorbing tale is told from the separate points of view of two characters, in the present and in flashbacks. In 2009, Paul, a teenager from a council estate in Essex, has been caught by the police committing an unspecified crime. He is determined not to give away the lad caught with him, Daniel, but as the police interrogation ramps up he reveals his terror about what will happen if he shops his friend. To protect him, the police arrange for him to relocate to Warwickshire, to work on a youth rehabilitation scheme as a gardener on a project to restore the (thinly disguised) Kenilworth Castle grounds to their original splendour.
As Paul starts his new job, he thinks back to his boyhood life, which began to spiral downwards after his father had a terrible accident. Bullied and miserable at school, Paul is rescued by Daniel, a boy who protects him and who Paul comes to protect in a different way. Paul’s life with his IVF-obsessed mother, the dynamics of his relationship with Daniel, and his desperate attempts to find a girlfriend and escape to become a teacher, are depicted with clarity and emotional depth.
It is rather more difficult to sympathise with the other main protagonist, Louisa. In 1989 she is in the sixth form but can hardly be bothered with school. She lives in a privileged environment in a house in west London containing all the luxuries she could want, with understanding but smug parents and the perfect elder sister. Louisa becomes a black-clad, body-pierced dropout, working for her friend in Kensington market selling aromatherapy oils. She ignores her family, has her room cleaned daily by an absent domestic helper, and regularly takes boys home for “one-night stands”. She meets her nemesis in Adam, a beautiful young man who is lead singer in a nascent band. Louisa becomes obsessed with Adam, becoming clingingly possessive and jealous.
In 2009, Louisa is 39 years old and she, too, is working at the garden project, supervising the landscaping and planting. She is a damaged and very private person, haunted by an unspecified tragedy involving Adam. When she meets Paul, she’s shocked at the likeness between him and Adam – soon the two of them are drawn to each other despite the difference in their ages.
The crime element of the novel does not come to the fore until the last 50 or so pages. At this point, Louisa and Paul confide their separate pasts to each other, and we learn what Louisa has been doing between 1989 and the present. Suspense is built up by Paul’s upcoming court ordeal and whether that will become derailed, as well as his determination to find out some facts that will help Louisa (he thinks) to come to terms with her own past. This last section of the book is by far the fastest-moving, building up to an exciting but abrupt climax that may or may not leave the reader feeling a little bewildered at the briskness of the outcome.
Telling a story from two points of view, about two characters who are across both the class and the age divide, is a challenge that this author meets very well; her narrative unfolds an assured manner. The depiction of Paul’s social environment and descent into the criminal life is particularly well done, though the spoilt young Louisa is rather tiresome. I can very much recommend this book to anyone who likes a good suspense novel, bearing in mind that most of its enjoyment for the reader comes in the stories of Louisa and Paul, rather than in a detective-style mystery plot.
NB. THE DARK ROSE is published as THE SICK ROSE in the UK.