The Witch Elm

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 01 Apr 2019

Member Reviews

What a delightful switch up.  Although the story still has characters from the Dublin Murder Squad, Tana French uses the unreliable voice of the victim to tell this tale.  We have cons, and burglaries, violence, familial love and skewed relationships all vying for top billing in this story.  Our narrator takes us on an emotional and psychological roller coaster that often left me feeling drained. The characters are poignant, and proud. Ms. French has created a fascinating murder mystery that is jarring and filled with warmth at the same time.
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Disappointing—French’s Dublin mysteries are favorites of mine, but this doesn’t hold a candle to her Dublin series. Toby’s an interesting character, dealing with physical, cognitive and emotional challenges after the break-in. But his upper crust sensibilities and self-centeredness wear thin, especially through the pages and pages where nothing happens. His cousins seem scurrilous and Uncle Hugo a tad odd—making me suspicious early on. There are flashes of drama and eventually a mystery, but readers must endure endless descriptions and thought processes before the climax and conclusion.
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This book wasn't for me. Just not my personal taste for an enjoyable mystery and the plot didn't grab me.
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Oooooh Tana French, I love you again! This was a bit different from French, as it's the first one without a strong police procedural element. Something about a bulk of the action taking place not in the Dublin streets but in the insular world of the family home almost reminded me of one of Kate Morton's books, interestingly enough. There was so much going on with the dual mysteries of the skull in the elm tree at the same time that Toby is recovering from an unsolved home invasion, but added to that is the incredible character development and examination that only French can do, not just of Toby but of his uncle and cousins as well. And Toby is one of those super rare characters in literature that I absolutely could not stand and yet still found him (and his experience) fascinating. Honestly, two months later (as I'm writing this review) I've already partially forgotten the ending, but the reading experience was just brilliant at the time. I know it's unlikely with all the books in the world and my slowing pace of reading, but I hope one day to come back to reread this book and a few others she has written (along with some other authors, of course!) and enjoy them all over again. Perhaps in my retirement!
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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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