Named a New York Times Notable Book of 2018 and a Best Book of 2018 by NPR, The New York Times Book Review, Amazon, The Boston Globe, LitHub, Vulture, Slate, Elle, Vox, and Electric Literature
“Tana French’s best and most intricately nuanced novel yet.” —The New York Times
An “extraordinary” (Stephen King) and “mesmerizing” (LA Times) new standalone novel from the master of crime and suspense and author of the forthcoming novel The Searcher.
From the writer who “inspires cultic devotion in readers” (The New Yorker) and has been called “incandescent” by Stephen King, “absolutely mesmerizing” by Gillian Flynn, and “unputdownable” (People) comes a gripping new novel that turns a crime story inside out.
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.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
By now, the deliciously paced psychological thriller is as unmistakably Tana French as a corpse in the country manor is Agatha Christie. The plot of this standalone thriller centers on human remains found in the trunk of an elm tree; if you haven’t yet been inducted into the cult of Tana French, consider this skull your embossed invitation. French is fascinated by themes of memory and identity; when we’re not working out her puzzles, we’re basking in The Witch Elm’s atmospherics, its conjuring of a peaty idyll that has misted over and gone to seed.
Reviewed by Julie Buntin, The Witch Elm is Tana French's first standalone, following six Dublin Murder Squad mysteries. It's as good as the best of those novels, if not better. In theme and atmosphere, it evokes her earliest two books, Into the Woods and The Likeness, using the driving mystery of course, there's a murder as a vehicle for asking complex questions about identity and human nature. But in this latest work, privilege is French's subject; more specifically, the relationship between privilege and what we perceive as luck. Who might we become if the privileges we take for granted were suddenly ripped away?, Instead of a world-weary detective, our narrator is Toby, an easygoing 20-something who has always taken his wild good fortune as a matter of course. He's attractive, clever, and universally liked. A publicist for a Dublin art gallery, he has a girlfriend so saintly that it takes a while for her to register as a real character (or at least for him to see her that way). Then robbers break into his apartment and beat him so badly that the physical damage permeates every aspect of his life, fundamentally altering his appearance, his gait, and his sense of self. His memory is newly riddled with gaps; his frustration as he attempts to discern what's real, what's remembered, and what's paranoia adds fuel to the plot. While he's in the hospital, his beloved Uncle Hugo, keeper of the Ivy House, a family property that's rendered with French's signature attention to real estate, is diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. Toby moves in with him, both to keep him company and because he, too, needs a caretaker., When a human skull turns up in a hollow of a witch elm in the backyard of the Ivy House, the plot revs its engine. Who does the skull belong to? And what does Toby have to do with whoever died in his backyard, or at least who was buried there? In typical French fashion, just when you think you've started to piece it all together, the picture shifts before your eyes. It's a bold move to wait until nearly a third of the way into the book to deploy the body. But what might seem like throat-clearing in another writer's novel is taut and tense in The Witch Elm, thanks to a layered network of subplots and the increasing fragmentation of Toby himself. In many ways, the most interesting question the novel asks is not whodunit; it's whether, and how, Toby will come back together again., Stepping outside the restrictions of the Dublin Murder Squad format suits French. Readers used to the detective's perspective might miss the shop talk, not to mention the pleasure of inhabiting the POV of the smartest character rather than (in this case) the most bewildered. By channeling the story through a narrator who's unfamiliar with the very worst parts of human nature, she's able to put her thematic questions at center stage . She carefully builds Toby up, and then strips every part of him away; the result is a chilling interrogation of privilege and the transformative effects of trauma. , Julie Buntin is the author of Marlena, a novel.Correction: An earlier version of this review misstated the number of Dublin Murder Squad mysteries Tana French has written.
Customer ReviewsSee All
Interesting enough to stay engaged, but found myself waiting for something to happen - the big reveal that would tie the plot all together. This was more like a meandering, slow burn. I never fully grasped the characters of Toby, Susanna and Leon and their complicated relationship. The only character who felt real to me and fully formed was Hugo.
It’s my first Tana Trench book. I picked it on a whim and it left me in a pit of despair.
I was expecting an intruiging thriller and ended up with a great deal of build-up with no climax in sight. I truly thought that by the end things would all come together, but instead was left hanging as I was with every other chapter of the book. I wish I had known this before reading half of the book just to get to the first interesting plot point.