Bill East’s The Arbutus is a dark and challenging novel that delivers a potent dose of madness, violence and erotic tension with the deliberation of a cannula. Maddie, a woman approaching middle age, returns from England to Peter, the Australian lover she fled many years before. Apparently unhinged and obsessive, Peter confesses to a series of murders at his wooded estate on the outskirts of Sydney. An intricate psychological game of revenge follows: The characters’ psyches are built layer by contorted layer; truths are offered and then undermined; the reader teeters on the edge of resolution, only to be pulled back into the game. Plausibility is often stretched to the limit (if the bizarre plot can be called plausible in any way): Is Maddie’s androgyny credible? Would Peter really have planned such a spooky endgame? On both counts, the author builds a convincing case for Maddie’s weird erotomania and Peter’s convoluted creepiness, and in the end, both their fates were easy to believe in. I rummaged in my reading history to find some novels that The Arbutus might echo. For the blending of the macabre and the world of nature (Peter has a thing about trees), I came up with Patrick Süsskind’s Perfume. For the exploration of twisted emotions, John Fowles’ The Collector and Sebastian Faulks’ Engleby came to mind. For gore, Jeffery Deaver’s The Bone Collector resonated. In the end, though, Bill East has created his own monsters. Crime thriller? Black comedy? Erotic mystery? Homage to trees? I didn’t care as I raced at top speed through The Arbutus.