The Witch Elm

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 01 Apr 2019

Member Reviews

Tana French never disappoints!  A little slow but I still wasn't  help to put it down. Is that plot a little far-fetched? Probably but who cares.
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Another murder mystery set in Ireland, but a step away from the Dublin Murder Squad series, which some of Ms. French's readers may find disappointing.  However, I really enjoyed this standalone story.  As always the story line was well plotted, the characters well developed and the dialog realistic.  #TheWitchElm #NetGalley
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I have been a devoted reader of Tana French since the very beginning, so I was excited to see this ARC listed. Unfortunately, it fell a little flat for me. I found it long and meandering and by halfway through, I was skimming to get to the end and to find out who the murderer was. It didn't help that I found most of the characters pretty unlikeable. Hopefully, the next book is one that grabs me more.
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Toby has had a tough year. First his flat is burglarized and he is beaten to near death. As he recovers, he finds out his favorite uncle only has months to live. Toby moves in with his uncle to help care for him during his final months. During that time secrets are uncovered that could either mend the family or tear them further apart. (potential spoiler alert:  I only gave this 3 stars as I found the ending unsatisfying with regard to the connection of the burglary).
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It took me a long time to figure out how I felt about The Witch Elm. In some ways I liked it, and think it's a good unique mystery in a genre that's stuffed with dry thrillers. Other things that French was trying to do with this book did not work for me.

My biggest problem with it is that the entire thing is written as if the main character is telling you a long story about events that have already happened. This is a problem because the main character either wasn't there for or doesn't remember most of the book's major events due to his injuries. There are a lot of long conversations while other characters tell him important information and these conversations got tedious after a while.

I am a huge fan of French and will read anything that she writes. I didn't think this was a bad book, but it just didn't rank up with my other favorites of hers.
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This book is quite a bit different from Tana French's previous novels.  Instead of following the police, we follow the civilians involved.  But!  We mainly follow a civilian who has suffered a traumatic brain injury, so there are gaps in the history, similar to the uncertainty the detectives might be running into.  The detectives themselves are really minor characters, mostly annoying gadflies that keep popping up from time to time.  The main character is sort of playing detective, but due to the brain injury, it's quite different from other bystander-turned-investigator stories.
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Some books are hard to get into.  Some books have elements that are unbelievable.  Some books can’t be put down.  Tana French’s The Witch Elm embodies all of these characteristics, notable throughout by its excellent writing.  The set up for the story takes up about the first quarter of the novel.  There were times when I was tempted to put it down permanently, but I know Ms. French’s writing and was certain that there was something of substance in store.  Once set up, the story, narrated by Toby, flies by. We meet all of the relevant characters and slowly begin to unravel their layers of complexity.  Narrator Toby is the most complex of all the book’s characters despite his early portrayal as what we might call a “good ol’ boy” for whom life has been nothing but good luck.  A seemingly senseless crime leaves Toby battered and suffering from some physical issues and spotty memory, and he and girlfriend Melissa, move into The Ivy House, a family home to care for Uncle Hugo, who is dying of recently diagnosed brain cancer.  Toby and his two cousins spent many summers together at Ivy House and it is only the discovery of a skull in the garden’s wych elm tree that the past returns to haunt all of the main characters.  Melissa is perhaps the most enigmatic character, part saint and part Pollyanna but then realistic.  Past and present crimes emerge and merge to an unexpected but not quite believable end.  Should the reader believe the confessions?  Is the final crime at all credible?  What is luck and what is a life well lived?  Ms. French raises important questions but falls just a tad short in how she addresses them.
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This standalone novel by Tana French has all of the things people love about the Dublin Murder Squad books - well developed characters, exquisite plotting, and deep explorations of human nature.

Toby leads a charmed life: idyllic childhood, good family, loving girlfriend, good prospects. But everything changes one night when he’s attacked and viscously beaten in his own apartment. As he struggles to recover from his injuries, Toby goes back to the family manse to help care for his dying uncle, Hugo. He makes progress and is beginning to rekindle the closeness he once shared with his cousins when a human skull is found on his uncle’s property. Gradually, Toby is questioning his family, his relationships, his memories, even his own sense of self..

Tana French is a wonderfully patient writer, willing to give her characters room to grow, develop, and evolve until they begin to inhabit the reader’s mind.
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I was super excited when I received an advance copy of Tana French's new novel. I didn't even read the blurb before requesting it. It's Tana French - enough said. I began the story and found it a little slow. I thought - It's Tana French it will pick up. I know I will be in the minority, and I know that many people will disagree with me, but I never really got into the story. It never really picked up, and the marathon dialogues and monologues were tough to get through. Will this stop me from believing that Tana French is practically perfect in every way - not a bit. I will without hesitation request/buy/barter for her next book. This one just didn't hit me the right way.
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French takes a break from her Dublin Murder Squad series for this standalone about a man struggling to come to terms with his future while at the same time looking for answers about his family’s past. Toby was just an average guy hen he made the mistake of interrupting a couple of burglars at work, who then beat him viciously and left him for dead, As Toby struggles to recover, he has to face the fact that the beating may have changed him forever. He decides to retreat to his family’s ancestral home where he can lick his wounds while caring for his dying uncle at the same time. When a skull is found in the trunk of an elm tree, the police get involved and Toby finds himself, already on shaky ground, dealing with a truth he may not be able to live with. French is an incredible writer, a woman who uses words like a paintbrush and who can set her readers so firmly inside the worlds she creates that they will forget their own (real) surroundings
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