My library has a program where you can borrow popular ebooks with absurdly long waitlists immediately, but you can only keep them 7 days. Luckily, The Witch Elm is the kind of mystery I absolutely tear through because I can’t handle the suspense.
Toby Hennessey is the sort of guy who isn’t good at any one thing in particular, but who seems to always coast by and can talk his way out of any situation. After a night out drinking with friends, he’s awakened when he realizes his apartment is being burgled. The burglars beat him savagely, and a good portion of the beginning of the book centers around his difficult convalescence. The beating damaged his memory and seems to have fundamentally changed parts of his personality, although this isn’t fully discussed. When Toby learns that his Uncle Hugo is dying of brain cancer, he and his girlfriend go to live with him in the house where Toby spent his summers as a child and teenager. One day, with his whole family there to visit, his niece and nephew make a gruesome discovery: there’s a human skull in the hollow of an old wych elm in the backyard. Toby and his family find themselves wrapped up in the ensuing investigation.
I’ve read a few Tana French books (this one is not part of the Dublin Murder Squad series), and some of the beats felt familiar: a troubled narrator, more than one mystery going on, a slightly ambiguous ending. A lot of reviews that I read about The Witch Elm complained about how dark and depressing it was, but I seem to remember her other books being like that, too. The unrelenting darkness of this book wasn’t my favorite thing, that’s true, but I didn’t think it was unusual for Tana French. What I did find a bit different than her other books was how very unlikable most of the characters are, particularly Toby. While I felt for him when it came to his medical issues, I just didn’t care for the guy, or really anyone else in the book other than his girlfriend and Uncle Hugo.
Like I said, I devoured this book. It wasn’t that I loved it, exactly, but it was the kind of book where I just had to know what happened. The ending, though, is absolutely brutal and depressing, and, to be honest, kind of made me sorry I read it. It’s just one hit after another. My recommendation? Just read the Wikipedia article on “Who put Bella in the wych elm?” case (which inspired French) instead.
CBR11Bingo square: Since I didn’t know how dark it was going to get, I picked this for my Summer Read square.