Published in Great Britain as The Sick Rose
Pamela Dorman Books/ Viking, February 2012
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.