Monday, October 8, 2018

Review: The Witch Elm

Summary: 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.

A spellbinding standalone from one of the best suspense writers working today, The Witch Elm asks what we become, and what we’re capable of, when we no longer know who we are. -- Viking

I was so excited to open my front door a few weeks ago and see Tana French's new novel THE WITCH ELM. I haven't read all of Ms. French's novels (I know -- Shame on me!), but the ones I have read are outstanding. I love her characters, the mysteries, and especially the way she writes. Plus it doesn't hurt that her books all take place in Ireland!

THE WITCH ELM is a standalone novel that tells the story of Toby, a successful young man who leads a charmed life... until he doesn't! Toby was a popular kid (and adult), and he was always able to talk his way out of anything. However one night, he wakes up to find two strange men in his home. They beat him senseless, and Toby's life suddenly isn't so charmed anymore. Toby was basically left for dead and he suffered from major injuries including some brain damage. His memory of the attack is almost nil, and he has problems focusing on anything for very long.

When Toby learns that his beloved uncle Hugo, who lives at the family home, has been diagnosed with brain cancer, Toby decides to visit him. He ends up staying with Hugo and the two men kind of take care of each other.

Things get interesting when a skull is found inside the trunk of a wych elm tree in Hugo's garden. The body is soon identified and police start asking Toby questions. Toby is pretty sure that he had nothing to do with the murder, but since his accident, he's not entirely sure of anything. Despite his health issues, Toby is determined to get to the bottom of the case... even if that means learning that he's a murderer!

I enjoyed THE WITCH ELM, but I will admit that it's not my favorite Tana French book. I thought this novel was a little slow and a little long, and there were times when I found myself losing interest in it. I think it just took awhile for the story/mystery to get going. Once things started picking up, I was all in... but that just took me a little longer than I liked.

Having said that, THE WITCH ELM is still a mystery written by Ms. French, so there's plenty of great things to say about it. She truly is a remarkable writer. I love her character development -- Toby and Hugo were extremely interesting, but so were a few of the secondary characters. In addition, I was definitely kept guessing about the story behind the discovered skull. I admit that my thoughts changed about as much as Toby's did.

What impressed me the most about THE WITCH ELM, though, was how it made me think. And I don't just mean that I was trying to figure out a mystery. Toby wasn't exactly the most reliable narrator because of his head injuries, but the portrayal of him really brought to light the issue of memory. (It probably didn't hurt that some of the issues concerning memory were also being talked about in the news!) In addition, this novel explored some serious issues about family, luck, guilt, revenge, and identity; and let me just say that the way Ms. French delved into these topics was nothing short of brilliant!

THE WITCH ELM is an outstanding example of just how smart literary suspense can be. And even though I did find the book slow at times, it is most definitely a worthwhile read. Highly recommended!

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this novel.

Mystery Mondays is a regular feature where I review all types of mystery books -- traditional mysteries, suspense/thrillers, and even cozies! Please feel free to share your thoughts on any recent mystery books that you've read.

1 comment:

bermudaonion said...

Double shame on me - I haven't read ANY of her books and I have a couple of them in my stacks. I'm glad you enjoyed this one.