If you’ve followed me on GoodReads, you are well aware of my affinity for Tana French. A former parishioner of mine turned me onto her books three years ago. I liked In The Woods well enough but at the time, I felt there was something lacking. I didn’t know that…a. I was unfamiliar with French’s style (subsequent readings would help me appreciate it more) and b. it was a first novel and I’ve since learned to be more graceful with first novels.
I then read The Likeness and it absolutely blew my mind. From then on, I became a full fan. And as a diehard mystery consumer, I can say this with confidence…
Tana French is the best living mystery writer. This book confirms it.
Now mind you, The Witch Elm will be far from my favorite of her works. It’s the first one set outside the Dublin murder squad, albeit it retains its familiar Dublin settings. And I think that hurts the book because French is so good at parsing out the internal dynamics of whatever detective is the main character while they’re on the case.
Her central character here doesn’t deserve the intense layers of detail French gives him. Strip him from those and he’s little more than a snot nosed punk. Same for most of his family. So it was tough to be fully engaged in their dynamics. On top of that, some parts of the book were overwritten. This thing really doesn’t need to be 500 pages. The first 400 left me interested but perhaps a tad disappointed.
But those last 100 pages…mah gawd.
I really can’t say much without spoiling things so I’ll say this: as the killer is being revealed, I was kinda annoyed at the exposition. And I’m not sure I believed motives. Until I saw how that exposition was setting things up. It’s like everything French was trying to say about family, gender dynamics, secrets, etc. just clicked. And then the book takes off like a rocket.
So I wound up liking it more than I thought I would when I turned to page 400. It’s really good. But I still think it takes a tad too long to get to where it needs to be.
If you’ve never read French’s work, don’t start with this one. Check out her earlier stuff. This is for the diehards and perhaps those that like deep, introspective family-centric crime thrillers. But get to this. Because…damn.