The Witch Elm
Toby is a happy-go-lucky charmer who's dodged a scrape at work and is celebrating with friends when the night takes a turn that will change his life: he surprises two burglars who beat him and leave him for dead. Struggling to recover from his injuries, beginning to understand that he might never be the same man again, he takes refuge at his family's ancestral home to care for his dying uncle Hugo. Then a skull is found in the trunk of an elm tree in the garden - and as detectives close in, Toby is forced to face the possibility that his past may not be what he has always believed.The Witch Elm asks what we become, and what we're capable of, when we no longer know who we are.

The Witch Elm Details

TitleThe Witch Elm
Author
LanguageEnglish
ReleaseOct 9th, 2018
PublisherViking
ISBN-139780735224636
Rating
GenreMystery, Fiction, Thriller, Mystery Thriller, Suspense, Crime

The Witch Elm Review

  • Emily May
    January 1, 1970
    I actually didn't love a Tana French book... the world is broken. I just knew I jinxed it by writing that first paragraph in my review of The Secret Place.I keep trying to convince myself to bump this up a star because it's hard to believe Tana French can write anything that isn't amazing. It's definitely not a bad book, but The Witch Elm - French's first standalone outside of her Dublin Murder Squad series - just didn't contain a lot of the stuff I've loved from this author.To start with, I fee I actually didn't love a Tana French book... the world is broken. I just knew I jinxed it by writing that first paragraph in my review of The Secret Place.I keep trying to convince myself to bump this up a star because it's hard to believe Tana French can write anything that isn't amazing. It's definitely not a bad book, but The Witch Elm - French's first standalone outside of her Dublin Murder Squad series - just didn't contain a lot of the stuff I've loved from this author.To start with, I feel like my love for French is centred around her awesome, snarky, flawed, messy, human detectives. The crimes are whatever; the detectives - their voices, quirks, passions and personal histories - are what make her books so damn addictive. I shipped Rob and Cassie so hard in In the Woods, and Cassie herself made the implausible plot of The Likeness actually okay. I will probably never get over Frank and Rosie from Faithful Place. And that's before we've got to Kennedy, Moran and the ferocious Antoinette Conway.Toby? He just doesn't compare. He's an asshole, but it's not that because sometimes assholes can be interesting (I might want to rewrite that sentence later). It's more that he's obnoxiously clueless, a self-proclaimed "lucky bastard" wrapped in a bubble of his own privilege. He's tall, blond and handsome, works at a PR firm, has a loving girlfriend and a group of good friends, and pretty much gets away with everything. He's a person who thinks this about poor, homeless people: They could have gone to school. Instead of spending their time sniffing glue and breaking the wing mirrors off cars. They could have got jobs. The recession's over; there's no reason for anyone to be stuck in the muck unless they actually choose to be. Flaws are interesting, but Toby's casual misogyny, judgement of others, and condescension make him extremely irritating. Plus, French's narrators are typically smart and intuitive, so Toby's head-scratching was frustrating.I think I can trace a lot of my issues back to Toby. For example, I usually enjoy the long-winded nature of Tana French's books. She can get away with waffling on because I genuinely enjoy learning details about the characters, and listening to them have pages of dialogue about something unrelated to the plot. But I was so uninterested in Toby that huge chunks of this book made me want to go to sleep.It takes so long to get to the main mystery, too. I get the point of the lengthy build-up in order to understand Toby as a character - someone who has been handed everything in life without having to face the struggles others would have, and someone who cannot believe it when he meets his first misfortune - but that didn't make it any more enjoyable to get through. It's a good hundred pages before the main story even rears its head.I also can't deny that I miss the exciting investigations and police procedure the detectives usually take us through.But I don't want this to get too negative. French does a lot of excellent things in this book and she digs into something interesting with Toby: how someone's luck, privilege, whatever-you-want-to-call-it can really affect not just a person's physical circumstances but their entire outlook on life. He's a conceptually fascinating individual, but it was so hard to find sympathy for him. It was this, in the end, that made me unable to care who the murderer was.Blog | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Youtube
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  • karen
    January 1, 1970
    OH MY GOD, IT'S HERE! AND IT'S NOT AN ARC - IT'S A FINISHED COPY AND IT'S MIIIIIIINE! goodbye, rest of day. you belong to tana french now. ***********************************************UPDATE - while my plan to corner an unscrupulous intern (harlequin presents #945: cornering the unscrupulous intern) may have failed, the universe has provided, and i am going to be reviewing this for l.a. review of books - ARC is en route. A MOST FRABJOUS DAY, INDEED!!! ****************************************** OH MY GOD, IT'S HERE! AND IT'S NOT AN ARC - IT'S A FINISHED COPY AND IT'S MIIIIIIINE! goodbye, rest of day. you belong to tana french now. ***********************************************UPDATE - while my plan to corner an unscrupulous intern (harlequin presents #945: cornering the unscrupulous intern) may have failed, the universe has provided, and i am going to be reviewing this for l.a. review of books - ARC is en route. A MOST FRABJOUS DAY, INDEED!!! ***********************************************these are the penguin random house offices in nyc. i am prepared to camp out in front of them until some kindly intern slips me an ARC of this.
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  • Meredith
    January 1, 1970
    2 and 4 stars. If I could give this a dual rating, I would! Explanation of rating: I had 5-star expectations for The Witch Elm--Tana French is one of my favorite authors and while I haven’t loved all of her books, I really enjoyed the most recent installments of the Murder Squad series. Unfortunately, my expectations were not met. There were parts of the Witch Elm that I loved, but others not so much. It’s hard to describe The Witch Elm--it’s part mystery, part thriller, part family drama. Prim 2 and 4 stars. If I could give this a dual rating, I would! Explanation of rating: I had 5-star expectations for The Witch Elm--Tana French is one of my favorite authors and while I haven’t loved all of her books, I really enjoyed the most recent installments of the Murder Squad series. Unfortunately, my expectations were not met. There were parts of the Witch Elm that I loved, but others not so much. It’s hard to describe The Witch Elm--it’s part mystery, part thriller, part family drama. Primarily, it is a psychological character study. Toby has had all the luck in the world. He has natural good looks and things come easily to him: his jobs, his friends, and his girlfriend. He comes from a loving upper-class Dublin family, who can offer financial support when needed. Needless to say, Toby hasn’t faced many struggles in his young life, until one night when his luck runs out and his life changes forever. The Witch Elm chronicles Toby’s decline from golden boy to an empty shell of a man. Toby is the primary unreliable narrator. I enjoyed getting inside of his head. I was riveted for about the first 20%--Toby’s voice is charismatic and I couldn't wait to hear more and learn more about him. But then NOTHING happens for quite some time. Yes, the reader learns more details about Toby’s family and his current struggles, but these parts could have been edited down quite a bit. What bothered me was not that there wasn’t much happening and the amount of information provided seemed superfluous. This is a repeated pattern throughout the book: drama- nothing- drama nothing- drama. It seems purposefully done to fully give the reader a full view of Toby’s mental decline, but I feel like the same impact could have been achieved without a full-on recap of every minute of Toby's life. If you are a reader who does not like reading every minute detail about a character’s life, you might struggle with this book. On the other hand, there are elements of this novel that are fascinating. Tana French certainly knows how to write a sentence; her characters are finely crafted and well-developed. The setting is multidimensional and takes on a life of its own. I really enjoyed the ending and having the opportunity to witness a complete view of Toby’s transformation. While this didn’t wholly work for me, I would still recommend for those who enjoy unreliable narrators and detailed character studies. I received an ARC of this book from Edelweiss and Penguin Publishing Group in exchange for an honest review.
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  • Tammy
    January 1, 1970
    Lucky and genial Toby meets the guys for a night out to celebrate his circumvention of a potentially career-wrecking incident at work. Afterwards, he is nearly beaten to death by intruders and his life changes dramatically. He lands at Ivy House to care for his terminally ill uncle and to recover from his own serious injuries. A skull is found in the Wych Elm which takes this finely crafted novel into the events of the past as experienced by the participants looking back from the present day. Im Lucky and genial Toby meets the guys for a night out to celebrate his circumvention of a potentially career-wrecking incident at work. Afterwards, he is nearly beaten to death by intruders and his life changes dramatically. He lands at Ivy House to care for his terminally ill uncle and to recover from his own serious injuries. A skull is found in the Wych Elm which takes this finely crafted novel into the events of the past as experienced by the participants looking back from the present day. Impaired and confused (or is he?), Toby tries to unravel the mystery of the skull which leads him to question who he was, who he believes himself to be, as well as, who he has become. His familial relationships are equally as distorted. This book crackles with realistic characterizations. At times, I felt as if I was listening to my husband and his friends good-naturedly jab at each other including that eye roll inducing middle school mentality that that tends to resurface when they are together. While a mystery exists, this book is more of a deep dive into the human psyche and an exploration of the perception of events from different points of view. I was transfixed.
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  • Mackey
    January 1, 1970
    Love LOVE and more LOVE for The Witch Elm by the amazing Tana French!!Amicable Toby is a happy-go-lucky guy who fancies himself as one the "The Lucky Ones." He has a great job, although he did create a major mess there  - but he sorted out his mess so it's all good. He has an amazing girlfriend to whom he is faithful, except for a bit of a roving eye. And he has two terrific mates who love him, at least he thinks they do. But Toby's luck is about to change when he is brutally beaten and robbed i Love LOVE and more LOVE for The Witch Elm by the amazing Tana French!!Amicable Toby is a happy-go-lucky guy who fancies himself as one the "The Lucky Ones." He has a great job, although he did create a major mess there  - but he sorted out his mess so it's all good. He has an amazing girlfriend to whom he is faithful, except for a bit of a roving eye. And he has two terrific mates who love him, at least he thinks they do. But Toby's luck is about to change when he is brutally beaten and robbed in his own apartment. Left for dead, in and out of consciousness for weeks, Toby is trying to put his life back together again while recuperating at his uncle's home, The Ivy House, where he and his two cousins summered throughout their childhood and teens. That is, until a human skull is found in the Wyche Elm, yes a cute play on words there, isn't it? Poor Toby - is anything that he thought true and real actually what it had seemed?Let me be frank with you, I only dabble in Tana French's series, The Dublin Murder Squad. There are those that I absolutely adore and then there are those that I barely make it through. French does such an incredible, amazing job at developing her characters that if I don't connect with them, I don't enjoy the book. The Witch Elm, however, is a stand-alone and I love - have I already used the word love - Toby! My son's name is Toby and, ironically, my Toby and this Toby are very, VERY similar. It's not hard to see why I connected with the book, is it?More importantly, though, French creates a supporting cast of characters that are quirky, irritating, affable, hilarious and oh so very flawed. Through them, as they either look for the killer or attempt to cover up for the killer, we learn about family, forgiveness, love, mistakes, second-chances and, sadly, death. While there is definitely mystery and suspense here, this is not a "thriller." It is a slow simmering, beautifully written examination of family, particularly a family in crisis.Interestingly, as I have read other reviews and previews of the book, they seem to be divided into die-hard fans of the DMS and the rest of us and the ratings reflect that division. This is a book that stands on its own as a marvelously written, creative work that is well worth reading by die-hard fans as well as those of us who simply appreciate a well told tale. Well done Ms. French!FIVE emerald green Irish Stars for The Witch Elm.
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  • Diane S ☔
    January 1, 1970
    3.5 In this rather lengthy stand alone, French again explores the sense of identity, as well as the question, How well do we really know another person? Three cousins, children of four brothers, who have all spent their summers, vacations from school at the house where their unmarried Uncle Hugh lives. Grown up now, not as close as they once were, they all come together after Toby is attacked in his apartment and left for dead. Although he makes it, he has lingering effects from the attack, one 3.5 In this rather lengthy stand alone, French again explores the sense of identity, as well as the question, How well do we really know another person? Three cousins, children of four brothers, who have all spent their summers, vacations from school at the house where their unmarried Uncle Hugh lives. Grown up now, not as close as they once were, they all come together after Toby is attacked in his apartment and left for dead. Although he makes it, he has lingering effects from the attack, one being his memory which has huge holes, blank spaces. So who is he now? He no longer feels like himself, far from the capable man he had thought he was. When a body is found in the old witch tree in his Uncle Hugh's garden, the Garda is notified. When it turns out t be someone they know, all come in suspicion, especially it seems Toby. The one Garda, reminded me so much of Peter Falk, playing Colombo. Dating myself I know. So the story goes,the very slow unraveling of a history of the characters. Intriguing story, well written as all of her novels are, the pace is very slow, and the pages long. One needs patience here, need to be in the mood for a slow burner. There are plenty of surprises, the characters interesting, myself I had a soft spot for Uncle Hugh, and the questions posed within, important ones. More a character study than a thriller I believe, though there are a few action scenes. I enjoyed this, but not as much as some of her previous works. Have a soft spot for her Dublin murder squad.ARC from Netgalley.
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  • Dorie - Traveling Sister :)
    January 1, 1970
    I had only read one book before from this author and that was “The Trespasser” which I loved. This book was just an o.k. read for me, here’s why.I’m getting a bit tired of unreliable narrators, this seems to be a trend lately. Toby is about as unreliable as you can get since he has suffered a severe brain injury right at the beginning of the story. It all starts, as he states, on the night that he walked home from the pub to his house quite drunk and went to bed without turning on the door alarm I had only read one book before from this author and that was “The Trespasser” which I loved. This book was just an o.k. read for me, here’s why.I’m getting a bit tired of unreliable narrators, this seems to be a trend lately. Toby is about as unreliable as you can get since he has suffered a severe brain injury right at the beginning of the story. It all starts, as he states, on the night that he walked home from the pub to his house quite drunk and went to bed without turning on the door alarm. During the night some men came in and robbed him. He interrupted their ransaking when he opened the door to the main room and turned on the lights. It was at this point that they beat him almost to the point of death.So the story started out with a bang. From there we have many hundreds of pages describing his recovery, his relationship with his girlfriend, Melissa, etc. Finally amidst all of this upheaval he gets a message that his Uncle Hugo is terminally ill and between suggestions from his mother and his own thoughts of wonderful summers spent at Uncle Hugo’s Ivy house with his cousins Susanna and Leon “, he decides to temporarily move there to keep an eye on his uncle and his health. To his happy surprise Melissa decides to join him. There are many weeks of things going quite happily, considering his uncle’s diagnosis. I have to say this part of the book really moved slowly for me.One Sunday Susanna and her family and Leon were visiting at the Ivy House, there is a blood chilling scream from the yard. “Zach and Sallie were standing at the bottom of the garden. Both of them were rigid, arms out in shock and by this time both of them were screaming, Sallie’s piercing inhuman high note rising above Zach’s ragged howls”. Turns out that the children have discovered a human skull in a deep hole in the Witch Elm in the garden. The adults do what seemed right at the time and called the police. The detectives spend weeks and weeks investigating the skull, ruining the garden with their digging and setting everyone’s nerves on edge. They did find an entire skeleton and identified it as Dominic, a friend of Toby’s and now they have to find out the reason the skeleton is here. Did his commit suicide as had originally been thought, did someone kill him, did he fall by accident? The story slows down quite a bit as we are introduced thoroughly to each of Toby’s cousins, what they were like when they were teens spending summers at the Ivy House and what they are like now. Ms. French relies entirely on our interest in her characters to move the story along, it doesn’t really make for a page turner. Her writing as always is superb and I always learn new words when reading her books. Here are a few for you to ponder: “hippogriff, decoction, burger and garrote. Just when things seem to be winding down and I was really getting tired of the book, bang, something really disturbing happens. This was at about 85% so it came as quite a shock. What ensues next is for you to discover as well as the ending.Ms. French did touch on some timely topics with this story including, family relations, bullying, PTSD and sexual harassment. I do love reading her novels just for the beautiful writing. My stars would be 5 for writing and 3 for slowness of the plot. On this afterthought I am changing my rating to 4 stars but remember you will have to have patience!I received an ARC of this novel from the publisher through Edelweiss.
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  • Hamad
    January 1, 1970
    This review and other non-spoilery reviews can be found @The Book Prescription “These are doctors. I don’t know what kind of social‑ justice‑warrior shite you’ve been reading, but their job is to make people better, if they can. Which sometimes they can’t. That doesn’t mean they’re evil villains rubbing their hands and looking for ways to fuck up people’s lives.”🌟 Have you ever watched a TV series or a film and you knew from the start it is not just for you, but it was interesting enough to make This review and other non-spoilery reviews can be found @The Book Prescription “These are doctors. I don’t know what kind of social‑ justice‑warrior shite you’ve been reading, but their job is to make people better, if they can. Which sometimes they can’t. That doesn’t mean they’re evil villains rubbing their hands and looking for ways to fuck up people’s lives.”🌟 Have you ever watched a TV series or a film and you knew from the start it is not just for you, but it was interesting enough to make you watch a bit more and then more and then you were invested enough to continue the whole thing only to regret the whole process at the end. Well, those were my feelings toward this book!🌟 I am as disappointed now as I was excited now when I was approved for this ARC-which is quite a lot- I wanted to read something by Tana French for ages now and I wanted a standalone rather than her Dublin Murder squad series. I thought everything was going to be perfect until I started reading this…🌟 I started this after finishing 3 books in 3 days and I was so excited, I started it while I was a bit tired and got bored so I blamed myself, took a break from reading and started it once again from the beginning the next day, it was a bit better but still I knew I won’t like it.🌟 So enough ranting and let me explain why I didn’t enjoy this; The writing was sybaritic and voluptuous (who uses these words??). The writing was from 1st person POV and the main character used lavish words that I have never heard from anyone IRL. If it had been a 3rd person POV, then it would have been the author using this language and it would have made much more sense. People in real life don’t talk the way this was written! Also the words Xanax and Bollocks were used every couple of pages and I could not un-notice them then which became annoying!🌟 Also it is supposed to be a thriller and I only started to get hooked after 30% of the book. See this quote: “Baby, it’s not Agatha Christie. I’m not going to get stabbed in the li‑ brary with a letter opener for getting too close to the truth.” Boy, I wish it was an Agatha Christie book, Agatha would have almost a whole book in the 30% that it took me to get involved in this. This was so descriptive and slow, that it felt like a 600-700 pages rather than 464 pages.🌟 There was much time spent on characters development and backstories. Unfortunately many details can be omitted and it would have been the same. I wasn’t fond of any character but I just powered through this as I don’t like to DNF ARCs.🌟 By the end of the book, many things happened and one thing took me by surprise. I sadly have lost interest by that time and just wanted to finish. I ended up giving it 2 stars out of 5!🌟 Summary: This book had a good idea and it can be surprising but I think it had bad execution. It could have been faster, simpler and with more relatable characters. I saw many reviews that said this was not as good as her Dublin Murder squad which is a good news for those -including me- who still want to give Tana a chance.🌟 Prescription: For those who are patient and can tolerate slow-paced books.
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  • Theresa Alan
    January 1, 1970
    Wow. This is a very different novel for Tana French. Still wonderful writing and still more than one mystery to solve, but this isn’t a detective-tracking-down clues story. Instead, the first big thing doesn’t happen until about thirty pages in, and the second really big thing doesn’t happen until you’re well into the novel. This allows for serious character development not just of the protagonist, Toby, but of the supporting cast as well. I found myself incredibly invested in how things would t Wow. This is a very different novel for Tana French. Still wonderful writing and still more than one mystery to solve, but this isn’t a detective-tracking-down clues story. Instead, the first big thing doesn’t happen until about thirty pages in, and the second really big thing doesn’t happen until you’re well into the novel. This allows for serious character development not just of the protagonist, Toby, but of the supporting cast as well. I found myself incredibly invested in how things would turn out for Toby.After he’s severely injured when two men break into his home, Toby goes to the Ivy House, a family property where his Uncle Hugh lives and where Toby and his cousins spent their summer vacations until they went away to college at eighteen. There, the discovery of a human skull leads Toby to examine his life and question his family and friends and history—also, who is he now after a head injury. The writing is magnificent and the twists and turns deftly and satisfyingly surprising. This is much deeper than a typical non-stop action suspense novel. Highly recommend. For more reviews, please visit: http://www.theresaalan.net/blog
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  • Ashley
    January 1, 1970
    Not a new Dublin Murder Squad=Sadface. But new Tana French=YES.There are many emotions inside of me at this moment.
  • Maxwell
    January 1, 1970
    [4.5 stars]This is definitely a slow burn of a novel. But boy does it build up to a pretty explosive ending—probably more than any other Tana French novel I've read. I don't think this would be a particularly great place to start with French's work, even though it stands totally free from her Dublin Murder Squad series. However, it definitely has the same bones as those novels, but it just feels different in tone. Her characters in this as far less likable, which I didn't mind at all. And she's [4.5 stars]This is definitely a slow burn of a novel. But boy does it build up to a pretty explosive ending—probably more than any other Tana French novel I've read. I don't think this would be a particularly great place to start with French's work, even though it stands totally free from her Dublin Murder Squad series. However, it definitely has the same bones as those novels, but it just feels different in tone. Her characters in this as far less likable, which I didn't mind at all. And she's addressing some pretty big topics but in the confines of a story that creeps up on you. Truly nothing big happens for 75-100 pages, so you have to sort of understand how French operates and/or love her writing to get into this book. I had confidence that she was taking it somewhere because I'd read her previous works, but I can imagine a newb to her writing might get frustrated at the pacing early on and give up. But if you stick with it you will be rewarded with a though-provoking, heart-wrenching, page-turning read.
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  • Michelle
    January 1, 1970
    DNF - No rating - will not be included in my 2018 book challenge. Oh man, I was so excited for this one. When I saw it as an auto download I nearly screamed before hitting that button. I even gushed to my Goodreads friends to hurry up and grab a copy. Ooops. My bad. Tana French is a skilled writer without a doubt but this book went on and on and on and on and on. The pacing was slow as molasses. I honestly don't care about anything that's happening or the people it is happening to.Maybe my timin DNF - No rating - will not be included in my 2018 book challenge. Oh man, I was so excited for this one. When I saw it as an auto download I nearly screamed before hitting that button. I even gushed to my Goodreads friends to hurry up and grab a copy. Ooops. My bad. Tana French is a skilled writer without a doubt but this book went on and on and on and on and on. The pacing was slow as molasses. I honestly don't care about anything that's happening or the people it is happening to.Maybe my timing was off with this one so I'm going to DNF it for now. The slow pace just isn't working for me but perhaps I will revisit this one again in the future. Tana French is a wildly popular author with a big fan following and I wish her continued success. I'm better suited to her Dublin Murder Squad books so I think I'll be returning to that series soon. Thank you to Edelweiss for providing me with a digital ARC in exchange for my honest review.
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  • Carrie
    January 1, 1970
    Again I find myself making a first attempt at an author I’ve heard so many good things about and walking away with a meh feeling. Best known for her Dublin Murder Squad series The Witch Elm by Tana French is a standalone so it seemed the perfect opportunity to try this mystery.Toby is our main character in The Witch Elm and to be honest my first problem with the book. You see, Toby and his happy go lucky attitude came off as a bit of a jerk to me so it’s hard to connect with a character that ann Again I find myself making a first attempt at an author I’ve heard so many good things about and walking away with a meh feeling. Best known for her Dublin Murder Squad series The Witch Elm by Tana French is a standalone so it seemed the perfect opportunity to try this mystery.Toby is our main character in The Witch Elm and to be honest my first problem with the book. You see, Toby and his happy go lucky attitude came off as a bit of a jerk to me so it’s hard to connect with a character that annoys you, sure things were great for him but he seemed to not care about anyone but himself.So anyway, the whole story is lucky Toby finds himself thinking all things will continue to go his way until he ends up at the wrong place at the wrong time where two burglars beat Toby within an inch of his life. This scare is something Toby has trouble dealing with so he returns to his family’s ancestral home to care for his dying uncle Hugo. This is where a skull is found at a witch elm which opens a box of secrets to be uncovered.Now, besides not particularly liking the main character in this story the book also had my next biggest mood killer of incredibly slow pacing. It takes forever to get to the mystery side of the story and even then it still crawled along. Now, I’m hearing this is not normal for Tana French but I can definitely say that the style of this one is not for me leaving me to rate it at 2.5 stars.I received an advance copy from the publisher via Edelweiss.For more reviews please visit https://carriesbookreviews.com/
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  • Dan Schwent
    January 1, 1970
    After suffering a brain injury during a burglary at his apartment, Toby goes to live with his terminally ill uncle Hugo. When a skull is found in a hollow tree on Hugo's property, the cops eye up Toby as a suspect. But with his brain injury, he can't be sure he's responsible or not...I've been awaiting this Tana French book since it was available for pre-order since her Dublin Murder Squad books are some of my favorite things. I almost canceled my pre-order when I saw this was a standalone but s After suffering a brain injury during a burglary at his apartment, Toby goes to live with his terminally ill uncle Hugo. When a skull is found in a hollow tree on Hugo's property, the cops eye up Toby as a suspect. But with his brain injury, he can't be sure he's responsible or not...I've been awaiting this Tana French book since it was available for pre-order since her Dublin Murder Squad books are some of my favorite things. I almost canceled my pre-order when I saw this was a standalone but stuck with it.Tana French is one of my must-buy authors so it pains me to say I almost tossed this one back on the pile. The skull isn't found until about a third of the way through the book. The writing is as sharp as ever but I felt like something was missing. It was glacially paced and I didn't really care for Toby. He was unsympathetic before the beating and I only liked him a little bit more after.Once the skull was found, however, I tore through the book in two or three long sittings. When the fuzz started sniffing around, I was about 90% sure Toby did it and was going to wind up in the clink. French ratcheted up the suspense and I was hooked for the duration. At various times, she had me believing a few different people were the killer. Things eventually went off the rails in a huge way and I was quite glad I didn't chuck it.Once the mystery really kicked in, the book was good, almost great. Before that, I felt like she was padding things until she figured out whether she was writing a literary novel or one of her usual literary-mystery hybrids. A third of the book is too much setup for what was basically a whodunnit, no matter how well written it is!Okay then. The Witch Elm is an enjoyable book once you get over the sloooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooow start. I don't want to say Tana French should stick with the Dublin Murder Squad but her next attempt at a standalone needs to be more engaging than this. Three out of five stars.
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  • Olive (abookolive)
    January 1, 1970
    See my review on booktube: https://youtu.be/kSMgcx-dG4sAND Open Letters Review! https://openlettersreview.com/open-le...
  • Em
    January 1, 1970
    This is a standalone, and not part of the Dublin Murder Squad series, but don't let that deter you - Tana is still as perfect as ever. Without spoiling anything, I can tell you that this book is about male privilege, the mutability of identity, the crushingly mundane horrors of everyday life as a human in the world, PTSD, family bonds, and, uh, owls. What strikes me every time I read one of French's novels is how absolutely masterful she is at voice, imagery, and sense of place. What's more, she This is a standalone, and not part of the Dublin Murder Squad series, but don't let that deter you - Tana is still as perfect as ever. Without spoiling anything, I can tell you that this book is about male privilege, the mutability of identity, the crushingly mundane horrors of everyday life as a human in the world, PTSD, family bonds, and, uh, owls. What strikes me every time I read one of French's novels is how absolutely masterful she is at voice, imagery, and sense of place. What's more, she's a patient plotter, and absolutely assured in how she structures and shapes a story. I honestly can't say enough good things about her.
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  • Jessica Woodbury
    January 1, 1970
    I recommend knowing as little as possible about this book when you start it. Not even the jacket copy, if you can. While I almost always recommend this for crime novels, this one in particular is quite slow and the typical summary gives you at least one big twist from the early sections that is best enjoyed cold. However, this makes reviewing the book very hard because it does many things so exquisitely but it's hard for me to talk about them without more spoiling than I think a reader should ha I recommend knowing as little as possible about this book when you start it. Not even the jacket copy, if you can. While I almost always recommend this for crime novels, this one in particular is quite slow and the typical summary gives you at least one big twist from the early sections that is best enjoyed cold. However, this makes reviewing the book very hard because it does many things so exquisitely but it's hard for me to talk about them without more spoiling than I think a reader should have. So my compromise is that I will give you these first two paragraphs for people who haven't read the book and just want to see if they will like it. The rest is to luxuriate in with me once you're done. Deal?This is French's first standalone, and her first book that isn't a procedural with a detective protagonist. It's still a crime novel, with two very different crimes at its heart, and the questions of who and why are just as critical here as in any detective novel. It moves at a much slower pace, but it still brings you much of what French does best. A complex character study of a first-person narrator, thrilling scenes of dialogue that can go on and on and keep you riveted, a setting that is as much a character as the people who populate it. Give it a little patience, there were stretches of it when I thought, "Hmm, maybe this is a 4-star book, I'm not sure it's quite at her best." And then I changed my mind. This is a book that rewards you for being patient. I listened to it on audio and while I occasionally wanted the narrator to take it down a touch by the end, overall I quite enjoyed it. (I love hearing accents when books are set in Ireland and Scotland so I don't just give the characters English accents in my head.) You may also want to find a friend who has already read it or is reading it too because I found myself desperate to discuss it with anyone else I could find.Okay, now if you haven't read the book, move along now. The rest of this is for when you're done.I am at just about my happiest as a reader when there is a new Tana French book in my hands. Ever since I read IN THE WOODS years and years ago, she keeps giving me the exact books I want to be reading. But I think there is a new level she achieves in THE WITCH ELM, there is a bigger question she is considering here. This isn't that uncommon, her protagonists generally are concerned with some personal demons or questions while in the middle of a case, it's one of the things she does so well. But in this book, because Toby is at the center of it all and not a new person entering just to investigate, you get to dig into it all without it being the B-plot. It's the main event, as critical to the story as the crime itself, and she rises to the challenge.The big question at the center of the book is one of luck, of how being lucky in that blessed, golden kind of way can turn you into less of a person. Toby is lucky. He's likable, he's good looking, he's always been popular, he's smart, he's got a good family, he has enough money, everything has basically gone his way. This isn't just a story of what happens when your luck changes. It isn't just the new Toby that French is concerned with. It's that old Toby, that same lucky Toby, and who he actually is/was compared to who he's always thought himself to be. I read this book in the middle of a furor around yet another story of sexual assault in the news, where a man who can certainly be classified as lucky is claiming he doesn't remember the event ever taking place, and other say what does it matter he was just a kid. I found myself thinking of Toby's story and this real one in conjunction with each other over and over again, and thinking how sad it was that in real life it's awfully rare for lucky men to undergo the kind of self-examination Toby is forced to undergo and to reach the conclusions about himself that he reaches. Getting to watch that happen was unexpectedly cathartic. I am still going over and over in my head the question of why it takes "bad luck" to make a person empathetic, but that is a bigger question than any one book can answer. The thing about Toby is he's a jerk. French starts us off with a story from Toby's life that immediately tells us exactly what kind of guy he is and he doesn't come off well yet the way he tells us this story tells us even more about the way he sees himself and his place in the world. This is not French's first time giving us a real jerk as a first person narrator and she is just so good at it. (I know there are many out there who still hate Rob with the fire of a thousand suns, but I think they'll find that Toby is a very different kind of person they'll hate in a less rage-y way.) It's truly phenomenal. And it's not because she makes us really care about a jerk. It's that we continue to think he's a real jerk, that we get to see him objectively, that we also can see how he sees himself and how far off he is, and that we can have sympathy for him without necessarily rooting for him, we can want to see what he will do next without wanting the best for him. It's a very, very high difficulty level maneuver, very different than the Unlikable Female Protagonist. It shouldn't work and yet it does and it brings extra levels of depth to the book that are really astonishing.As for the mystery itself, Toby is an unusual (often infuriating) amateur detective, but it all comes together here brilliantly, with answers that feel just surprising enough while also feeling like the obvious one. You're not constantly reading this book wondering who did it and I don't think she wants you to, this is one of her great skills in all her books, answers that feel like just one more puzzle piece fitting into place. She fills the book with delectable little twists that aren't surprises exactly, but they are introduced to you when you aren't ready for them. I gasped aloud, made faces, covered my mouth, etc etc while I listened to this book. There is a large divide among French fans of those who love IN THE WOODS vs those who love THE LIKENESS, almost everyone has one they vastly prefer to the other. In THE WITCH ELM French has given us much of the best of both in ways that should appeal to both sides of the divide. As promised, Toby is not going to fill you with rage the way Rob did. And for people who looked at THE LIKENESS and thought "I see that you're trying to go for a kind of SECRET HISTORY vibe here but I don't think you actually pulled it off" (and, full disclosure, I count myself among that group) here I think she really does it. The setting of the Ivy House, the long scenes with Hugo and Melissa and his cousins, I felt that leisurely settling-in that I never quite got to with THE LIKENESS even though I wanted it. It is tinged with nostalgia just as French wants it to be.And can we just take a moment to appreciate the way French uses the (frankly) overused device of the unreliable memory? It makes much more sense here than it does elsewhere. The am-I-losing-my-mind trope can be really problematic with issues of mental health, but by using Toby's brain injury as a way to both throw his identity out of whack, leave him struggling to keep up, and leave him as the one person who doesn't actually know what's going on, it all works splendidly. While sometimes the things Toby did and didn't remember and the timing would give me a minor eye roll, I was willing to go with it because it's such a well-executed device.I have very few actual quibbles. I think the last 5 pages or so could have used a little more... something but I have no idea what that would be. I am baffled by the colors on the cover, but I haven't really liked any of the US covers for her novels except for the very first two. Why she gets such placid, emotion-less covers when her books pulse with life I don't understand. Many will find this book too slow and too long and I don't think they're really wrong, but I think it's intentional. When you consider that the mystery is only part of what's happening, that the question of who Toby is/was is what we're really here for, all these long scenes where we get to just roll slowly through are necessary to give us all those little details that, when assembled, create a picture of a man in such minute detail that I can't remember the last time I knew a character this well.The only problem is that now it's over and it'll be two or so years until the next one.
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  • Blair
    January 1, 1970
    I have mixed feelings about The Witch Elm.This is a standalone Tana French novel – the first she's written that isn't part of the Dublin Murder Squad series. It's the story of Toby, a real golden boy: wealthy, handsome, popular and charming, with a loving girlfriend, close family and cushy job, he seems to have everything going for him. That all changes one night when he surprises a pair of burglars in his living room. When he attempts to confront them, Toby is savagely beaten and left with a li I have mixed feelings about The Witch Elm.This is a standalone Tana French novel – the first she's written that isn't part of the Dublin Murder Squad series. It's the story of Toby, a real golden boy: wealthy, handsome, popular and charming, with a loving girlfriend, close family and cushy job, he seems to have everything going for him. That all changes one night when he surprises a pair of burglars in his living room. When he attempts to confront them, Toby is savagely beaten and left with a limp, facial scars and significant neurological damage, including huge holes in his memory. Shortly after getting out of hospital, he discovers his uncle Hugo has a brain tumour and has only months left to live. So, with his girlfriend Melissa in tow, he moves in to Hugo's home – in the family for several generations, known as the Ivy House – both to recuperate, and to help look after his ailing uncle. The Ivy House, for Toby, is a hallowed place: full of cherished memories of idyllic summers with his two cousins, all of them the same age and as close as siblings.Things finally seem to be looking up for Toby. But then his cousin Susanna's son finds a human skull while exploring Hugo's garden, and all hell breaks loose.Toby is our narrator. He's an absolute prick. He's supposed to be; you have to get to the end of the book to understand just how much he's supposed to be, and how that ties in to everything else. He's not so awful that you don't sympathise when he's attacked – French depicts the beating and its aftermath in graphic, effective detail, and I wouldn't wish that on my worst enemy – but he's frequently low-level offputting: incredibly judgemental, casually sexist, dismissive of others' problems and worries, patronising, etc. On top of that, Toby's ineptness at investigating the skull mystery is frustrating when compared to the meticulous attention to detail typical of the Dublin Murder Squad books. I longed for another perspective.Melissa, meanwhile, is possibly the smuggest, most sickly-sweet manic pixie dream girlfriend ever committed to paper. She's either a terrible creation on French's part, or Toby's account of her is meant to be obvious bullshit. The latter seems more likely, but if that is the case, there's no payoff, no reveal. Melissa just acts like a convenient plot device: slavishly devoted to Toby until the story needs her not to be, at which point she exits neatly and quietly. She seems nothing at all like a real person with feelings and opinions.Finally, the story takes a long time to get where it's going, and I'm not sure the meandering journey is really worth it. With the last three Dublin Murder Squad books, I've grown so accustomed to thinking of Tana French as a master craftsman that I sometimes forget I haven't loved everything she's written. The improbable last-act twists in The Witch Elm recall the daft premise of The Likeness more than the excruciating slow-burn of Broken Harbour or the luminous atmosphere of The Secret Place. Crucially, I didn't really care who killed the victim, or whether they got away with it. But. Toby is also a genius creation. It's not that he's particularly interesting in himself; it's what he represents. Life has been abundantly kind to him, and in the beginning he sees it all as sheer luck. His ordeal with the burglars is significant because it – or rather the damage it does – brings Toby into line with the less 'lucky' around him, and he becomes aware of an invisible world he has never before perceived. It's an eye-opening way to explore the advantages enjoyed by someone like Toby, and what happens when some of those advantages are lost. Yet Toby's narrative also shows how his 'luck' continues to carry him along in relative comfort long after anyone else would have been chewed up and spat out. In its own way, The Witch Elm is just as much a damning indictment of the justice system as, say, something like The Mars Room, which focuses on the other end of the spectrum, the cruelty doled out to those without Toby's privilege.I know the above sounds more negative than positive overall, but I did enjoy reading this book. It's very absorbing, the descriptions are beautiful (the Ivy House leaves more of an impression than any of the characters) and French's prose sings; as always, she achieves the perfect combination of lyrical and coarse. There's a tonne of ambition in here, loads of careful detail; much to admire. However, altogether it doesn't quite achieve what it's aiming for, and it's no match for the author's increasingly sophisticated police procedurals.I received an advance review copy of The Witch Elm from the publisher through NetGalley.TinyLetter | Twitter | Instagram | Tumblr
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  • Emily
    January 1, 1970
    I'M GONNA DIE BEFORE THIS BOOK COMES OUT!!!!!!
  • Caidyn (SEMI-HIATUS; BW Reviews; he/him/his)
    January 1, 1970
    This review can also be found on my blog!Thanks to Viking for a copy in exchange for an honest review! Publishing October 9th!CW: bullying, attempted sexual assault, homophobia, burglary, graphic beating, and cancerI’m really conflicted about this book. Really, really conflicted. Because, on one hand, it wasn’t at all what I expected and was something new from French, who is an author I love from her Dublin Murder Squad series, yet it also wasn’t as exciting as I wanted it to be. It waffled betw This review can also be found on my blog!Thanks to Viking for a copy in exchange for an honest review! Publishing October 9th!CW: bullying, attempted sexual assault, homophobia, burglary, graphic beating, and cancerI’m really conflicted about this book. Really, really conflicted. Because, on one hand, it wasn’t at all what I expected and was something new from French, who is an author I love from her Dublin Murder Squad series, yet it also wasn’t as exciting as I wanted it to be. It waffled between three and four stars for me, but I landed on four.At first, I thought this was a retelling of Who Put Bella in the Wych Elm, a famous unsolved mystery from England. But it’s just inspired by it. Which works because there are so many weird theories and thoughts about that case, so she was able to take the idea of a body found in a tree without dealing with anything else.But, what is this book really about?It’s about Toby, a man who has the whole world going for him… until a brutal home invasion leaves him scarred, both physically and mentally. His uncle, Hugo, is dying of cancer and, for a break, he moves in with him as a caretaker. One day, his cousin Susanna’s kids are playing and finds a skull in the witch elm in the lawn.From there, the secrets pour out.It’s a slow read. Like, it took nearly 40% of the book to get to actually finding the skull — which is why I think the synopsis gives too much away, but also the title immediately calls the unsolved mystery to mind so it’s hard to get away from spoilers. Then the hunt took forever. The reveal came at 80%. Then there was still 20% to build-up.That’s a huge con for me, honestly, yet it oddly worked at the same time?It’s a family drama. Okay? It’s not a crime procedural like she’s done in all her other books. It focuses on the family Toby has. His dying uncle Hugo, his own memory loss, his stay-at-home-mom cousin Susanna, and his gay, wandering cousin Leon. And everyone’s important to the book in some way. The story revolves around this family drama and the unsaid things and secrets kept.I can’t say too much more than that, honestly. It’s one of those weird books where everything happens but nothing happens. If you want something thrilling, this isn’t the book for you. If you want something that meanders the path to get to the conclusion, you’ll like it.6/29/18I.GOT.AN.ARC!!!!!!!!!!!!!!Thanks to Viking for an e-copy of this in exchange for an honest review!Original review (6/28/18):IS THIS A TELLING OF THE WHO PUT BELLA IN THE WYCH ELM CASE?????????????????????????i need it
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  • Darinda
    January 1, 1970
    After returning home from a night out, Toby is attacked when he surprises two burglars in his place. He is severely beaten, and has a long road to recovery. During his recovery stage, he moves to his family’s ancestral home where his uncle resides. One day, when the whole family is gathered there for one of their routine family get-togethers, a skull is discovered in the trunk of an elm tree. As detectives investigate, Toby realizes his past may not be quite like he remembers it.Toby is a happy After returning home from a night out, Toby is attacked when he surprises two burglars in his place. He is severely beaten, and has a long road to recovery. During his recovery stage, he moves to his family’s ancestral home where his uncle resides. One day, when the whole family is gathered there for one of their routine family get-togethers, a skull is discovered in the trunk of an elm tree. As detectives investigate, Toby realizes his past may not be quite like he remembers it.Toby is a happy and pretty lucky guy. Before the attack, things always seemed to work out for the best in Toby’s life. In some ways, that made his friends and family upset with him, because he didn’t necessarily recognize or understand when they had struggles in life. However, things change for Toby after his attack. This book covers a lot of topics – privilege, bullying, sexual harassment, memories, identity, and family loyalty.The writing, as usual with Tana French’s books, is superb. The story is slow though. It’s mostly a good slow, but there was a portion of the book where nothing really happened. This book relies heavily on the characters. Other than the attack on Toby and a mysterious skull in the yard, very little other action occurs. I was really into the first part of this book, but then things slowed down. Real slow. Then, a skull was found in a tree. Ooh, a mystery. Then slow, again. I kept waiting for something to finally happen. And then it did happen. And it was glorious. Okay, maybe not glorious, but I was happy with how things unraveled.A slow burning psychological thriller. Detailed, atmospheric, complex, and tragic.I received a free eARC of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.
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  • Bill Kupersmith
    January 1, 1970
    Disappointing for Tana French but with enough twist at the end to make worth reading an otherwise very obvious plot. With The Likeness, Tana French cemented a place in my top three favourite authors, along with Sharon Bolton and Elizabeth Haynes. But her subsequent offerings have betrayed a steadily coarsening and shrinking imagination. Frank Mackey in Faithful Place is a subtle creation, but his blood relations mostly a collection of lower-class Irish stereotypes with his mother the worst sort Disappointing for Tana French but with enough twist at the end to make worth reading an otherwise very obvious plot. With The Likeness, Tana French cemented a place in my top three favourite authors, along with Sharon Bolton and Elizabeth Haynes. But her subsequent offerings have betrayed a steadily coarsening and shrinking imagination. Frank Mackey in Faithful Place is a subtle creation, but his blood relations mostly a collection of lower-class Irish stereotypes with his mother the worst sort of superstitious Mother MacCree given to ‘Holy Family of God’ exclamations and his father a revolting and pitiable alcoholic and minor criminal. Broken Harbour featured the almost clownishly inept detective ‘Scorcher’ Kennedy whose method of getting a ‘solve’ is to apply a ‘template’ to identify the most likely suspect, arrest him on no evidence and try to browbeat a confession. The Secret Place gives us four marvellously appealing schoolgirls, especially Frank’s daughter Holly, but also the odious detective Antoinette Conway, a potty-mouthed female of the ‘Scorcher’ species who reappears in The Trespasser.Now, with The Wych Elm (retitled The Witch Elm for American readers who (1) don’t know what kind of tree a wych elm is, and (2) couldn’t be bothered to find out about the famous 1943 discovery in Hagley Wood, Worcestershire, we are given a stand-alone from the ‘Dublin Murder Squad’ – though we still have to endure detectives of the Kennedy and Conway class (one of whom meets a fate I’d wish on Kennedy or Conway). Our central character is Toby Hennessy, supposedly a superficially charming 28 year old Dublin publicist for dodgy art who suffers grievous bodily harm at the hands of apparent ‘burglars’ (the reader will figure out the assailants’ motive immediately though it takes the victim and the detectives the entire book and a lucky clue). As a result, Toby loses bits and pieces of his memory. When the body of a school bully who disappeared a decade before is found embedded in a wych elm in the garden of his uncle Hugo’s house (nicknamed the Ivy House), Toby becomes obsessed with the fear that he murdered the victim and placed him in the tree.Having myself undergone similar injuries (broken leg, five broken ribs, broken hip, broken neck) though on different occasions and as a result of stupidity rather than assailants, I can testify that the account Toby gives of his condition was unconvincing. You may lose your short-term memory of the event, but you’ll not forget something as deeply embedded in your long term memory as having murdered somebody, much less concealed the body in a tree. His injuries also turn Toby into the sort of neurotic self-pitying wreck we saw with Rob Dixon at the end of In the Woods, which makes him squander the love of a woman who is much his superior in every respect. Real victims of such injuries (experto crede) respond by making themselves the best physiotherapy patients determined on mental and physical recovery they can be, not dissolving into whining blobs like Rob and Toby.Even nominal Irish adults apparently now also express themselves like American thirteen-year-olds, though we get a few Hibernian items such as ‘gaff’ (residence), ‘yoke’ (a what-do-you-call-it), and ‘gaffer’ (boss). Toby employs lots of f-bombs, contemptible persons in his lexicon are ‘douchebags’ and a sarcastic response to an obvious observation is ‘No shit, Sherlock!’ – ‘No shit, Antoinette!’ or ‘No shit, Scorcher!’ would be more appropriate for this author and setting. But then the characters in The Wych Elm don’t read Tana French novels. They also don’t look up bodies found in wych elms on the internet.)Taking a glance on the verso of the title-page of The Witch Elm at B&N, I noticed that the book was labelled both ‘suspense fiction’ and ‘literary fiction’. Of course it cannot be the latter because the dialogue is set off in inverted commas. Maybe that classification explains why the British publication of The Wych Elm was postponed to 21 February 2019 – to make it eligible for some prize or other? Personally, I’d prefer Tana French to leave ‘literary fiction’ to Sally Rooney and the like, and to bring back Cassie Maddox or Holly Mackey in some real crime fiction, a genre much more mature spiritually and morally that what passes of serious fiction these days anyway.
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  • mikhaela
    January 1, 1970
    it's not a dublin murder squad installation but sign me the fuck up for anything by tana french please and thank you
  • Melissa
    January 1, 1970
    I received a copy of this from Netgalley in exchange for a review. Thanks Netgalley! You've been so kind to me this year.Can the marvelous Tana French write a compelling book even if it does not involve the Dublin murder squad? The answer, at least for this reader, is no, not really. There is nothing exactly wrong with the story of Toby, who, in the aftermath of a devastating assault, moves into the evocative Ivy House where he summered as a child to take care of his dying uncle, and in the hand I received a copy of this from Netgalley in exchange for a review. Thanks Netgalley! You've been so kind to me this year.Can the marvelous Tana French write a compelling book even if it does not involve the Dublin murder squad? The answer, at least for this reader, is no, not really. There is nothing exactly wrong with the story of Toby, who, in the aftermath of a devastating assault, moves into the evocative Ivy House where he summered as a child to take care of his dying uncle, and in the hands of another writer this would have been a perfectly respectable little three-star read that I didn't have vague feelings of disappointment about after finishing. But I know how good French can be and I know how happily wrecked I've been in the past after reading her books, and this just didn't get there for me. Although her writing is just as gorgeous and heady as ever, the story limps and drags through the Ivy House, and once the secret in the elm tree is discovered, Toby's meandering attempts to glean clues about it have got absolutely nothing on the sharp-edged skill of her past detectives. When the cops eventually show up, I was just despondent that I wasn't reading the book from Detective Rafferty's perspective instead of that of Toby, who is exactly the type of unreliable narrator I can't stand. I did enjoy the dramatic stuff right before the ending (view spoiler)[and Susanna's reveal that she'd always been ruthless was amazing (hide spoiler)] and in no world would I give up on reading French because she's one of the best ever, but I'm only devastated that this is definitely not her usual caliber of effortlessly brilliant and heart-breaking.
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  • Bailey
    January 1, 1970
    *screaming internally*
  • Chandra Claypool (wherethereadergrows)
    January 1, 1970
    As an avid thriller reader, it's a shock that this is my very first Tana French! I've heard great things about her as a thriller writer - I've also heard that her writing style might not be for everyone. Well, I'm here to tell you that it's definitely for me! Obviously I can't compare this to her other works but I'm actually glad that this is the case.Have you ever met that person who always seems to have things work out for them? No matter what happens, you know if you were in that same situati As an avid thriller reader, it's a shock that this is my very first Tana French! I've heard great things about her as a thriller writer - I've also heard that her writing style might not be for everyone. Well, I'm here to tell you that it's definitely for me! Obviously I can't compare this to her other works but I'm actually glad that this is the case.Have you ever met that person who always seems to have things work out for them? No matter what happens, you know if you were in that same situation, it would've panned out differently for you? This is Toby - the luckiest guy - can talk himself out of anything with minimal effort, awesome girlfriend, good job (that he mayyyy have just messed up but also is fixable), great friends, etc. Then an unexpected burglary happens and his world is flipped upside down.French has this way of patiently bringing the story together. Sometimes this type of writing can get wayyyy to descriptive for me and my attention span. However, while some parts may have dragged just a bit, the way she did it really brings the atmosphere of the book straight into your brain. You feel the house, the many intricate characters and we have questions... LOTS of questions about more than one mystery at hand. As a thriller lover, I find myself trying to figure things out as I read them - by the time I got to chapter 4, I thought for sure I knew.. or had an inkling of where it was going. Now, you say, "Chapter 4.. really girl?" But chapter 4 was already 140+ pages in! LONG CHAPTERS. I was actually completely wrong. However, the reveals that came wasn't overly shocking but the delivery was impeccable. She builds up the story and somehow keeps tracks of every detail that it comes together seamlessly.My first Tana... certainly not my last!Thank you Viking Books for this copy!
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  • Catie
    January 1, 1970
    3 1/2 starsTana French is still an absolute genius – this one just wasn’t my favorite. The writing is incredible – immersive, detailed, and rich. Characters are built flawlessly through dialogue, action, and appearance, so much so that they may as well be alive. Even the plot, while occasionally slow, is pretty compelling. I think, in the end, I can chalk this up to a major case of: it’s not you; it’s me.Toby is a “lucky” man – tall, blond, and successful, things just seem to fall into place for 3 1/2 starsTana French is still an absolute genius – this one just wasn’t my favorite. The writing is incredible – immersive, detailed, and rich. Characters are built flawlessly through dialogue, action, and appearance, so much so that they may as well be alive. Even the plot, while occasionally slow, is pretty compelling. I think, in the end, I can chalk this up to a major case of: it’s not you; it’s me.Toby is a “lucky” man – tall, blond, and successful, things just seem to fall into place for him. He has a solid job doing PR for a small gallery, and he’s been checking out larger firms with an eye to the future. His sugar-sweet girlfriend, Melissa, is absolutely devoted to him, and he comes from a tight-knit family that still manages to get together each Sunday for lunch. He’s been so privileged in his life that he can’t really fathom that others may have it differently. He’s the kind of person who would, with genuine concern and kindness, say, “Why don’t you get a job?” to a homeless person on the street and not really comprehend why that might be difficult. “Why didn’t you just call the police?” he might say to his black neighbor without ever stopping to think about the potential complications inherent to that suggestion. It’s not that he’s an asshole per se; he just has no ability to see beyond his own experiences.Naturally, it comes as a bit of a shock to him when his home is burgled late at night and he’s beaten almost to death, leaving him with gaping holes in his memory, a droopy eye, a limp, and slurred speech. After he moves in to “The Ivy House” – a childhood haunt rife with memories – a human skull is found in the backyard, and his entire past, identity, and relationship with his family begins to unravel.I can always trust Tana French to give me the most immersive, realistic characters and then break down their psyches to nothing with brutal efficiency. Toby is no different, but in this case, I really wanted him to break down. In the current political climate, I don’t exactly have a lot of sympathy for overprivileged white men, and it was with a bit of glee that I watched Toby realize that perhaps the world wasn’t as gracious and forgiving as he always thought it was. However, at the end of the novel, I still felt unsatisfied. Toby’s breakdown is a grand one, but society still steps in to rescue him from downfall most of the way. Although this was probably a realistic outcome, it felt unsatisfying.Another aspect that I disliked was Tana French’s decision to center this story around a victim instead of a detective. Her skill in writing fast-paced investigations is extraordinary, and I felt miffed every time a detective showed up in this story, wishing that I could follow him instead of Toby. It was clear that there was a twisty investigation going on in the background, and I really wanted to be a part of it instead of with Toby’s fractured memories and angst.However, I am still a Tana French fangirl for life and will purchase everything that she writes. I’m hoping that the next book returns to the world of the Dublin Murder Squad!P.S. Fellow Tana French fans, is Detective Rafferty from any of the previous books? He shows up in this novel, and it made me wonder if we’d seen him before.
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  • Julia Buckley
    January 1, 1970
    Viking sent me an advanced review copy of THE WITCH ELM; I had never read Tana French before.I stayed up until 3 in the morning finishing this book; it defines suspense and good writing. I will definitely read more books by Tana French.
  • Obsidian
    January 1, 1970
    Well first things first, don't go into this expecting the Dublin Murder Squad. This is a standalone by Tana French. We do get detectives in this one, but one wonders if the next book will follow the squad again and if this story will be discussed on the periphery. This not being a Dublin Murder squad book is not why I gave this three stars though. The story told her is disjointed (purposely due to Toby's injuries) but if it was just that it may have worked. I think the biggest issue I had was th Well first things first, don't go into this expecting the Dublin Murder Squad. This is a standalone by Tana French. We do get detectives in this one, but one wonders if the next book will follow the squad again and if this story will be discussed on the periphery. This not being a Dublin Murder squad book is not why I gave this three stars though. The story told her is disjointed (purposely due to Toby's injuries) but if it was just that it may have worked. I think the biggest issue I had was the way that Toby finds out the truth (during the world's most boring info-dump) and then the ending that made zero sense after a while."The Witch Elm" told in the first person, follows Toby who is a bright eyed and bushy tailed 28 year old guy in PR at a small art gallery. He is in a long-term happy relationship with his girlfriend Melissa and he has two best friends. Deciding to skip going to his girlfriend's house one night after being out with his two best friends causes Toby's life to twist into something new. Going home causes him to fall asleep and then wake to two men burglarizing his apartment. Toby decides to fight back and is beaten almost to death. When he wakes he finds out he is going to need time to recover. However, Toby post burglary is different. He can barely stand to be touched, he picks fights with his mother, he can barely even be around his girlfriend. When his cousin tells him that their Uncle Hugo is dying of an inoperable cancer she asks that Toby go stay with him and help him. Toby and Melissa go and stay with Hugo, and things at times seem to be getting better until a skull is found in Hugo's back garden in a witch elm tree. FYI, they spell witch wych throughout the book and it kept throwing me every time. Toby reminds me on the surface level of Rob from "Into the Woods." Two male characters who don't recollect huge pockets of their lives. Rob was left scarred by what happened to him in the woods. He never does recall what happened and French gives no hint what fate befell his two friends. Rob doesn't truly recover from his childhood and in the end because he didn't want to face things, he ruined his career and his friendship with his ex-partner Cassie. Toby is in PR for an art gallery and things are going okay for him, though he's quite lucky he wasn't fired from his job after his boss caught him in a lie about an artist. Going out drinking with his two friends, Sean and Dec he is giddy with relief about not being fired and getting away with what he has done. There at the beginning we are given glimpses into Toby. A 28 year old guy who doesn't seem to realize that his actions have true consequences. He sees his best friend Dec as being jealous of him and feeling terrible because of his background. He never sees that he should grow up and think about others around him. After the burglary we see Toby change, but often at times while reading this I wondered how much he truly changed. He had physical difficulties, but the same cluelessness that seemed to be in him from the time he was a kid was still there as an adult. I don't think that I liked him much in retrospect. When Toby starts playing detective it really doesn't make a lot of sense to me as a reader. And Toby doesn't find out things by investigating, he just gets people drunk or high and starts asking questions. I don't know, something was missing from this book that I get from the Dublin Murder Squad books.The other characters don't really jibe that well in this one either. Melissa works better than most of the other secondary characters. I just thought Toby dismisses her throughout the story, though he's painted as being very in love with her. Toby's family felt a bit confusing to me at first. I honestly needed a chart after we do get to meet all of them. I wish that we had more details about Uncle Hugo. Considering what a huge role this character had to play due to Toby staying at this home, his parts that focused on genealogy felt a bit off at times. Susana and Leo are developed a bit more, but in the end what we know of them doesn't work the whole way when you think about the ending. As I said above we do get detectives in this one, actually two sets. The first we meet due to Toby's attack, and the next due to the police being called after the skull is found in the witch elm tree. The detectives don't work for me throughout this book. The ones investigating Toby's burglary and beating seemed like an after thought and joke The ones investigating the probable murder didn't seem very solid to me.The writing was okay, I just though the story after a while started to get disjointed. Due to Toby's memory issue a lot of times things are just being told to him. I just wish that there was another way besides constant information dumps to have Toby find out something. And then in the end we do have him remember something and it absolutely didn't even make sense why he would remember this one incident after everything else was a black hole. The flow was up and down throughout the book. The setting of the book takes place at Toby's paternal family's home called "The Ivy House". Honestly I wonder why the book wasn't just called that. The home sounded very real and about 90 percent of the book takes place at this location. The ending as I already said doesn't work for me. Maybe if French had changed the ending (cannot get into it without spoilers) it would have worked for me. It just all felt a bit too far fetched to me. And as I said above, it doesn't help that Toby reminded me of Rob.
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  • Kyra Leseberg (Roots & Reads)
    January 1, 1970
    "It's taken me this long to start thinking about what luck can be, how smoothly and deliciously deceptive, how relentlessly twisted and knotted in on its own hidden places, and how lethal." *Toby has had luck all his life.  Not to say its been perfect, but the standard misfortunes of an ordinary life have always seemed to skip over him entirely.It isn't until he uncovers that a co-worker at the art gallery he's employed with in PR has lied about art work for an upcoming show that his luck finall "It's taken me this long to start thinking about what luck can be, how smoothly and deliciously deceptive, how relentlessly twisted and knotted in on its own hidden places, and how lethal." *Toby has had luck all his life.  Not to say its been perfect, but the standard misfortunes of an ordinary life have always seemed to skip over him entirely.It isn't until he uncovers that a co-worker at the art gallery he's employed with in PR has lied about art work for an upcoming show that his luck finally begins to run out.He spends an evening celebrating with his two best friends that he's done enough damage control to keep his job and instead of going to his girlfriend Melissa's apartment, he returns home.Toby's awakened by the sounds of an intruder and surprises two burglars in his living room.  He's left for dead but manages to make it to the hallway for help.Without any significant leads, the police believe it was a standard burglary and assume they'll eventually find the perpetrators on a list of usual suspects.While struggling to recover both mentally and physically from the violent attack, Toby receives news that his uncle Hugo has been diagnosed with inoperable brain cancer.Toby and Melissa visit Hugo at the ancestral home known as Ivy House and decide to stay and care for him in his declining state.It isn't long before the family sits down together to discuss what will happen to Ivy House after Hugo's death but they're in for a shock when children discover a skull inside a hole in the wych elm in the back garden.Even more shocking is that the body discovered is an acquaintance of Toby's from school named Dominic who was thought to have committed suicide ten years prior.As detectives search for answers to Dominic's death, Toby learns that not everyone in his life has shared in his good luck, especially his cousins Suzanne and Leon, who were bullied by Dominic.  Has Toby been completely unaware of or possibly ignoring uncomfortable situations? Are his memories unreliable because of his recent head injury?Toby, still affected by the attack, is popping Xanax and trying to play detective in order to discover the truth as detectives build a case that points to him as a killer.Tana French has covered several serious topics in this novel, including bullying, sexual harassment, PTSD, and the luxuries afforded to those from "good families".While there are several heavy topics discussed throughout, the novel focuses on the mystery of Dominic's death and how he ended up in the tree while making readers wonder if its somehow connected to the attack on Toby.Very little action occurs; French relies entirely on her characters - both the tension and dialogue between them as well as their memories - along with a richly detailed atmosphere to unravel the mystery.  Because of that, The Witch Elm can at times be a slow read as each key character and their history, motives, and relationships are crafted.This is an intricate story that felt more like a character study than a crime/mystery at times.  I appreciated getting to know each character and considering how relationships, especially familial, can influence us and change our lives forever.Thanks to Viking and Edelweiss for providing me with a DRC in exchange for my honest review.  The Witch Elm is scheduled for release on October 9, 2018.* The quote included is from a digital advance readers copy and is subject to change upon final publication.For more full reviews, visit www.rootsandreads.wordpress.com
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