England, review

The Dark Rose by Erin Kelly

The Dark Rose by Erin Kelly

Published in Great Britain as The Sick Rose

Pamela Dorman Books/ Viking, February 2012

Source: Publisher

The Dark Rose is the story of Louisa, a 39-year-old working in Essex to restore a historical garden, and 19-year-old Paul, a young man working on the restoration project while he’s in Witness Protection in the months leading up to his friend Daniel’s trial.  Both are haunted by dead men (the epigraph of the book is from Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep:  “Dead men are heavier than broken hearts.”):  Louisa is haunted by her teenage boyfriend Adam, the singer in a rock band, and Paul is haunted both by his dead father and a man who died while he and his friend were stealing scrap metal.  Most of the story revolves around Louisa and Paul’s teenage years, and Kelly is very good at getting the reader to care about their interior lives.  The present in the story revolves around the historical background of garden restoration, the people working on the project, and Paul and Louisa’s relationship, but the main focus of the book is on the past.

This is not a typical crime novel.  There’s definitely a background of crime that drives both of the main characters, but this story is primarily about how to live with the crimes you’ve been a part of.  I typically read police procedurals or other stories that focus more on a brisk plot, so it took me a while to get used to the pace of this story, but it is very involving despite the slower pace.  The setting is vivid and her characters are real, complex people.  The pace picks up near the end of the book, but most of what comes before involves tortured romances and friendships.

Finally, I’m puzzled about the American title:  Louisa explains what a sick rose is and when it develops, or, more accurately fails to develop, at a crucial point in Paul and Louisa’s story.  A dark rose is never mentioned in the story, and it’s not really as evocative a title as a sick rose.

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9 thoughts on “The Dark Rose by Erin Kelly”

  1. Rebecca – I don’t always understand changes in titles either. Thanks for this thoughtful and interesting review. Like you, I usually read crime fiction where we follow the story of a crime and its investigation. I’ve not read so many where the focus is on characters who’ve had to live with crimes in which they’ve been involved. It sounds as though this perspective is a bit of a retrospective on the crimes rather than the story of those crimes. Interesting! It sounds a different sort of pace, and I’m glad you enjoyed it.

    1. I’ve been trying to think of other books that are less standard crime novels, and the first one that comes to mind is The Secret History by Donna Tartt. I read it over ten years ago so I’m not great about recalling the details, but I remember it was quite good.

  2. I liked this book very much too, despite not being too sure about it at first. I found the young Louise impossible to like/sympathise with, she was so spoilt and petulant. Paul was a more sympathetic character to me. I totally agree about the title, I reviewed the US edition of the book for Euro Crime and made the exact same point in my review. Titles are often changed between regions which I can sort of understand but why change it to something nonsensical? I presume whoever did it had not actually read the book!

    1. I agree with you about Louisa being hard to like, but she grew on me. Bad young romances aren’t really my thing, so I preferred the Paul half of the book as well. Re: the title– I’d love to be in on the editorial meetings when the titles are changed.

  3. Interesting review. I would like to read this one. I find the changes in titles incomprehensible. I think it has something to do with American publishers not wanting to shock the reading public. William Ryan’s recent novel, The Bloody Meadow, British title, had a specific connection to an Eisenstein movie, Bezhin Meadow, but in the states it was renamed, The Darkening Field, which meant nothing at all. I imagine that in this Erin Kelly’s novel, they were afraid the word “sick” was in itself offputting, despite the fact that it meant something in the novel, and “dark” didn’t. Pity one can’t do anything about this.

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