The Witch Elm by Tana French

I love Tana French. I first heard of French listening to Parul Sehgal from theNew York Times Book Review Podcast (fangirl moment when I tweeted out that she was the one who turned me onto Tana French and she tweeted back!!!) Sehgal suggested starting with  the Dublin Murder Squad series, so I did, when I was in Dublin no less(more about that series in another post). Most recently, I’ve read The Witch Elm.

Our narrator Toby is unreliable from the start. We know within the first few pages that Toby will suffer a traumatic brain injury resulting in gaps in his memory. To help in his recovery, Toby venture Ivy House to take care of his ailing and beloved Uncle Hugo, who is suffering from inoperable brain cancer. Both men are experiencing similar symptoms relying on one another. At Ivy House, Toby attempts to piece together the disjointed fragments of memory from his attack. Cousins Susanna and Leon both help and hinder in his recovery as memories of old childhood heartaches and rebellions surface with the discovery of a human skull that had been buried deep within the Witches Elm in Uncle Toby’s backyard.

My affection for Toby ebbed and flowed. Although Toby can be the quintessential ass, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for him in his confusion and insecurity. He struggles to differentiate between factual truth and perceived truth created through childhood memories.

French does not take the easy path to resolution in his novel. There are several plot complications in our road to discovering who’s skull ended up in the tree….and how it got there. These complications, however, are never tedious; in fact, they create more intricate character development, especially regarding Toby and Hugo.

The Witch Elm was the sort of book that reminded me of why I love reading mysteries. Our little school library would have a limited selection of authors, so I read EVERYTHING by Agatha Christie and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It was wonderful to have what seemed to be an endless supply of intrigue sitting on the library shelf. The Witch Elm is a hefty read of over 500 pages that sucked me into the vortex of its story for a good two days. If you are a lover of mystery novels, be sure to check out Tana French as especially be sure to get your hands on a copy of The Witch Elm.


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