The Witch Elm

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 01 Apr 2019

Member Reviews

I loved the characters and the way the story unfolded.  I've never read a Tana French book, but I will for sure go back and visit her books now,  Never a lull in the story, definitely kept my attention until the end.  An awesome mystery with so much going on.
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Love this book. Characters are believable. Plot started slow and now I can’t read it fast enough. Her characters are so developed. Main character has PTSD. Very realistic portrayal of PTSD. Plot definitely reads as real life.
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This book started off extremely slow and I almost gave up. I wasnt quite sure where the tree in the title came into it. The author eventually connected the dots toward the middle and then the tale picked up. However  the book took a super weird turn at the end. This wasn't one of my favorite French stories.
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I've been a fan of Tana French for a while, and although I've found one or two of her premises to be a bit of a stretch of the imagination, I've really enjoyed her work. This book was a miss for me, though. I loved the first half, but the second half devolves into a series of false endings rife with misery. Although I don't require a happy ending, to have several depressing endings in quick succession feels like emotional manipulation.

The characters that are established in the first half and the relationships between them is truly the standout feature of this book. French's exploration of the narrator's personality traits and self-perceptions through various lenses throughout is interesting. The family relationships are captivating. The situation as it unfolds throughout the first half of the book (and maybe even the first 3/4) made me want to keep reading. But then...the misery piles on to an extent that broke my immersion. I get the sense that French wanted to explore the character's interiority in response to the latter part of the plot, but it didn't work for me.

5 stars for the first half, 1.5 for the second
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I really enjoyed reading this book. It is different from Tana French's other books but still very enjoyable. The story's main character is attacked at home and is hit on the head which leaves him with memory problems and a fear of living alone. He moves into the family home to join his uncle where another event leaves him questioning his memory. An interesting plot with many twists and turns. Well written and interesting in how it touches on the effects of social media and internet searches.
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I was really disappointed in this book. I have loved the Dublin Murder Squad books. I enjoyed the characters in this one, but I just didn't feel they were fleshed out enough. And the ending was awful. And what did it really have to do with how the book started.
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Toby led a charmed life until he is so severely beaten during a burglary that he is completely changed -- and if that weren't enough, his uncle is dying of brain cancer and a body is found in his uncles yard. The book evolves into a jumble of tangles, twists, secrets and lies as everybody, including the reader, struggles to uncover the truth. 

I loved the first half of the book--the way French revealed just enough to keep us guessing and wondering--but then the book kind of lost it for me. The big confession that went on and on and over explained everything and then the added twists and events toward the end that seemed just too much and didn't really make sense.
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This is a great book about what happens when you become a victim. Toby's story is told from his haunted perspective as an oblivious and entitled young professional brought low by a vicious attack. While he can be annoying at times, it works beautifully with the arc of his character and the story. The mystery and suspense comes as much from his newfound lack of belief in himself as from the external forces in the book. While it's a standalone book from French's Dublin Murder Squad series, the detectives we know and love and hate make many appearances as they handle the cases Toby is involved in. While you can definitely enjoy it without having read her other books, I would recommend reading them first if you do intend to read the series. And no faithful reader of the Murder Squad books should miss this one.
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Bollocking ballsacks, I just lifted my nose from a very long book! My eyes are tired but it is all worth it.

Our narrator is Toby, a self-professed lucky person. He hit all the breaks in life: good looks, happy childhood, well-to do family,  great girlfriend, a job that he got without working really hard for it. Basically, Toby is the world’s standard issue of a privileged cis het white guy. Until...

Toby opened the story on the night that his luck run out. After having drinks with his mates, he went home to his apartment. Safe asleep, he was stirred awake by a couple of burglars who beat him to a pulp. The incident left him with a limp, a drooping eyelid, a slur in speech and an addled brain of fuzzy memories. For purposes of this review, I will not delve too much into details. Suffice it is to say that after that, Toby came to live with his dying beloved uncle in the family’s ancestral home. About one thirds into the book, a skull was found buried under an elm tree in their garden.

The book is more than answering the questions of whose skull is under the tree and why is it there. It’s also about cracking through Toby’s surface and looking for what else is underneath. The book is keen on exploring the character of its protagonist as well as getting on with furthering the whodunit plot. It totally gets what I’ve said before about making the characters human first before making them murder suspects or amateur sleuths .

Toby was not a jerk but I also don’t think that he was written to be a likable character. His dream was so basic: build a family of his own and live a good life in a white Georgian house. But what he got instead –stripped off of his dashing looks and charm– was an opportunity to take a long hard look on himself and his perspective of the people around him without the tainted, rose-colored lens of privilege. Now a victim of violence himself, he realized that his past built-in easy high school life made him shortsighted to the traumatizing teenage troubles of his less popular cousins: gay Leon and nerdy Susanna.

Although I did not necessarily liked Toby, I appreciate the experience of seeing through his eyes. Because I am a woman of color from a third world country, his is a valuable perspective that I would not otherwise have in my own life. His conversations and moral arguments against his cousins are insightful. His self-reflection, philosophical. I even came to empathize with his plight. No one, even the privileged, deserves what happened to him. I grew anxious for his well-being as he began to descend into disintegration and dangerous psyche. I pity him in his darkest hours and rooted for his redemption.

This is my first time to read a Tana French. I know that she is a big name in crime fiction and if her other works are as character-driven as this, then I would surely want to read more from her.
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3.5*
Tana French’s new novel is set in the Dublin area but does not involve the Dublin Murder Squad. The book starts out strong with Toby, a likeable, affable guy who has led a live of popularity and ease. He uses his charm to persuade people to think favorably about him. He exudes confidence and likes to poke fun at friends and family who are less poised and successful. All that suddenly changes when burglars attack him in his own apartment and leave him near death. The assault has rendered Toby badly damaged, both mentally and physically.

As he faces recuperation, Toby ends up staying with his uncle who is dealing with cancer. Returning to the family homestead brings back memories to Toby’s disjointed mind. When a skull is discovered on the property, the police are called and a full investigation begins. The plot thickens and there is plenty of tension between: Toby and his cousins, Toby and the police, Toby and his diminished capacities, and Toby ‘s concern over his uncle’s health. The once easy-going PR guy is now mired in questions and concerns. Detectives involved in investigating both cases - the robbery and the skeleton - are smarmy and unctuous in their questioning. They sow doubt and confusion in Toby’s damaged mind.

French has a powerful way of depicting Toby’s fractured memory and physical slip-ups. His anguish is palpable and his obsession over trying to make connections and solve the crime is disturbing. Unlike the Dublin squad, the focus is on the victims and possible perpetrators instead of on the detectives. 

Somewhere midway through the book, the story loses some steam. It falters a bit but not because of poor characterization. French’s depictions of Toby’s friends and his cousins are outstanding and they are colorful additions that are typical examples of the author’s skill..
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A complex mystery entwined with a family drama. May disappoint some fans of the Dublin Murder Squad books.
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I usually like Tana French books.  Although they are somewhat depressing and dark, they are cleverly crafted and  suspenseful.  The Witch Elm starts out with some promise but just gets even darker than usual.

Toby is lucky and gets all the breaks until his home is violated and he is attacked.  After a long time in the hospital, he is still suffering from the effects of the brain damage he suffered in the attack.  He and his girl friend, Melissa, move in to care for his uncle who is dying from brain cancer. This is the home where he and his cousins spent many happy hours as children and where all of the family returns for weekly Sunday dinners.  During one of these dinners a body is discovered in the Wych Elm at the back of the garden.  The investigation that ensues brings out many buried secrets and tests the cousins friendship and Toby's character.  It was just too depressing for me.
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My expectations were high going into this book and in the end, it didn't wow me. The story felt long and meandering and the main character, Toby, never really grabbed my interest. There were elements of the mystery that I enjoyed and the reveal was satisfying, but much of the book felt like a slog to get through.
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I did not like this as much as I hoped I would.  I found it to be slow paced, and tedious to read.  The chapters were too long!  And the ending was disappointing.  Not terrible, but I would not recommend.
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Tana French is one of my favorite authors and she does not disappoint in this stand-alone novel. A reflection on luck and how one event can change an entire life.
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I love Tana French’s Irish Detective series. However this departure doesn’t stand up to her other work.  I’m 2/3 through and had to walk away. It keeps dragging on and on... really. Where’s the plot development? I may or may not finish it. I hope French goes back to the Detective series next.
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I didn't think I was ever going to get through this book. The actual story doesn't start until about a third of the way through. The first part deals with an event somewhat unrelated to the central part of the plot. Once the actual story begins, the book is actually quite good. While gathered at a family home, some children stumble across a skull in the backyard. It is up to Toby and his siblings to figure out who the skull belongs to and how it got there. This is the first book French has written that isn't from the point of view of a police officer. Toby, the main character, is utterly unlikable, which I think was the point. All of the characters are pretty insufferable, actually. The ending of the book is rather bleak, and left me feeling rather hopeless about human nature. It definitely left me with something to think about.

I received an ARC of this title from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
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Wow this was so boring. Jesus. The actual plot doesn't get going until page 150, and even then, there are whole chapters of just people sitting around talking. This book should have been about 200 pages shorter to function as a gripping, suspenseful mystery.

It's not even really a mystery. This book is more of a character study about what it means to be "lucky," and what can happen if something that defines you is suddenly stripped away. All of that was interesting, sure, but man the rest was boring.

It definitely has a lot of merit, but if you're a fan of Tana French's Dublin Murder Squad series, the things you love about that don't really translate here.
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The pace was much too slow for me. I found myself not caring about any of the twists and turns of the story because it was all bogged down in mundane details.
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I'm a huge fan of Tana French. Her Murder Squad Series is one of the few mystery series I enjoy so I was excited to give this stand alone a try. Overall it was a really great read, and I enjoyed it just as much as her Murder Squad books. 

Our main character is Toby and he's living a charmed life. Great family relationships, great friends, great girlfriend, good job, everything's coming up Toby. That all changes when he interrupts a burglary at his apartment and is nearly killed in the ensuing scuffle. This sets off a chain of events that ends up altering his life in ways he can't begin to imagine. A beloved Uncle with brain cancer, a skeleton in the garden, and a spiraling family dynamic punctuate the meticulously crafted mystery.

Like all Tana French books, this one is loooooong and can take a good long while to get moving. I was 30% of the way through the book before the skeleton shows up which gets the actual mystery moving. It can be discouraging if it's your first French book, but if you stick with it you'll be rewarded. All her books are meticulously crafted and everything comes together in the end, but it can take a while to get there. The characters are expertly crafted and the plot eventually gets moving at a good clip. It was really interesting to see her write from a suspects point of view after reading so much from the detectives POV in her other books. French is certainly not a one trick pony when it comes to characterization, and she does a great job of talking about privilege and luck without it ever feeling tacked on or soap boxy. In the end this is really a story about luck--but for one small twist of fate, everything could have worked out differently and that's where the true horrors of life wait. 

I was really enjoying it until the last 10%. I'm used to kind of suspending disbelief a bit with her books, but the end on this one took it just a little too far too fast. It would have been perfect if she had ended it just a bit sooner. Otherwise it was a really insightful read. I'd recommend it to people who enjoyed her other novels and patient readers who value character explorations over action scenes.
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