If you are in the least bit interested in this story- as an avid reader of Tana French or a curious newcomer- then heed the warning and DO NOT be tempted by the book jacket! The inciting action is described- in detail- right on the open flap of the cover, but you will spend a good 250 pages wandering around in wait. It will ruin one of the many surprises, and lend an unnecessary element of additional suspense to something that is already full of deepening dread. Do not do it!
Now that you have been adequately warned, feel free to jump into The Witch Elm. This is a break in tradition for French; all of their past novels have been loosely connected by the “Dublin Murder Squad” (a rotating cast of hero and antihero detectives alike), but The Witch Elm follows the point of view of a victim of a savage crime. I suppose this is an appropriate starting place if you’d like to see what all of the fuss is about; it was one of the most heavily anticipated releases of 2019, and you don’t need to have read the previous series in order to follow along- BUT- I do not recommend starting here. French’s previous novels- especially In the Woods, The Likeness, and The Secret Place are all beautiful knots of dread, coincidence, and eerie happenings. I had to sleep with the light on several occasions while reading In the Woods, but I found myself less ensnared and more determined to just slog through to the end. I spent a good deal of time with The Witch Elm just waiting for it to finally be over.
I mean no disrespect to The Witch Elm; it’s a finely written and nasty little mystery, but it doesn’t have the depth of the “Murder Squad” tales that came before. I found myself disappointed throughout, but I am sure that many others found themselves more than content. Maybe some of the subject matter was too close to home for me; while I am not a down-and-dirty detective, I am a person dealing with the repercussions of a traumatic brain injury and being reminded of my constant shortcomings and annoyances throughout the narrator’s verses left a rotten taste in my mouth. All in all, I hope French returns to the “Murder Squad”- but if they don’t, I certainly won’t stop reading- I just won’t be as rabid a fan.