Title: The Poison Garden
Author: A. J. Banner
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Publication date: October 22, 2019
Genre: Mystery and Thriller, Psychological Thriller
Summary: I usually write my own summaries, but, in this case, I think the already existing one really does say it best:
A woman’s idyllic life becomes a deceptive hall of mirrors in a thriller of exquisitely constructed psychological suspense by A. J. Banner, bestselling author of The Good Neighbor.
Elise Watters seems to have it all—a blissful marriage, a gorgeous Victorian home surrounded by lush gardens, and a dream job running her late mother’s herbal boutique.
But on the eve of her first wedding anniversary, Elise makes a shocking discovery that turns her life upside down and casts doubt on everything she thought she knew—about her marriage, her friends, and even herself. As she treads into dangerous territory, Elise is forced to wonder: Is her whole future at stake? Or is paranoia getting the best of her?
If she is to believe what she sees, Elise has every reason to fear for her life…
When I look at my notes on the plot, the story feels a little convoluted. Elise is an easily paranoid person who quickly grows to distrust and fear her husband, Kieran, who has lied many times to her. Her ex-husband is working on a project for her next door neighbor and seems to be a bit of a protector to her, but he has his own dark agenda. At one point, it became impossible to determine which husband was manipulating her and which was protecting her. And then there was her friend, her next door neighbor. A slim part of the story was told by Chantal, which didn’t make much sense until the very end.
When I think about how I felt while reading it, and when I ruminate upon it long after reading, I’m awed at what a fast-paced thriller it was. I loved not knowing who to trust, who to believe. I hated that Elise was so easily manipulated, but, were I in her shoes, I think my psyche would be more than a little fragile. But she clearly had bad taste in men. As for Chantal, I was so confused about her chapters as they felt like they intruded on the story Elise was telling, but it really came together at the end, and I can’t help but feel a bit impressed. This may be a thriller focused on the easily manipulated Elise, but I also think of it as really being Chantal’s story and the lengths she would go to for a friend.
The characters were so insanely well-done. I kept going back on forth on Elise’s husband, Kieran, and ex-husband, Brandon, and whether to trust them or not. In some books, this comes off more as the author not really feeling sure about their characters. This wasn’t the case here. I felt like the author knew exactly what she was doing, and was purposefully twisting the reader’s mind around with Elise’s. As helpless as I felt Elise was, and as much as I wished Chantal had told more of the story, it really had to be Elise’s. Her character and the story fit perfectly together. Easily manipulated, increasingly paranoid, and longing to trust someone, this thriller depended on her perspective.
Let’s discuss the setting a bit. It takes place on an island off the coast of Washington. It’s remote and idyllic with a small population. It’s seemingly cut off from the rest of the world, so is its own microcosm. At the beginning, I really loved the island. It really did feel idyllic and picture perfect and, gosh, I wouldn’t mind living there. But, as the story went along, that remoteness came into play with absolute perfection. The island began to feel sinister, as though it were wrapping itself around Elise and choking her.
The Poison Garden tells a really twisted story. It asks whether you truly know someone. I loved not knowing what was going on and where the story was going. I felt as helpless as Elise did. I found it really easy to be swept up in this story. Overall, this was an excellent thriller where the story, characters, and setting worked together with near flawlessness to tell a truly dark and twisted story.
How many cups of tea will you need?
5 cups, most definitely.
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Thank you to NetGalley and Lake Union Publishing for a free e-copy. All opinions expressed are my own.
Check out more of my book reviews over at the Bookshelf.