The Witch Elm

The Witch Elm

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...

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Title:The Witch Elm
Author:Tana French
Rating:
Edition Language:English

The Witch Elm Reviews

  • Mackey

    Love LOVE and more LOVE for

    by the amazing Tana French!!

    Amicable Toby is a happy-go-lucky guy who fancies himself as one the "The Lucky Ones." He has a great job, although he did create a major mess there  - but he sorted out his mess so it's all good. He has an amazing girlfriend to whom he is faithful, except for a bit of a roving eye. And he has two terrific mates who love him, at least he thinks they do. But Toby's luck is about to change when he is brutally beaten and robbed i

    Love LOVE and more LOVE for

    by the amazing Tana French!!

    Amicable Toby is a happy-go-lucky guy who fancies himself as one the "The Lucky Ones." He has a great job, although he did create a major mess there  - but he sorted out his mess so it's all good. He has an amazing girlfriend to whom he is faithful, except for a bit of a roving eye. And he has two terrific mates who love him, at least he thinks they do. But Toby's luck is about to change when he is brutally beaten and robbed in his own apartment. Left for dead, in and out of consciousness for weeks, Toby is trying to put his life back together again while recuperating at his uncle's home, The Ivy House, where he and his two cousins summered throughout their childhood and teens. That is, until a human skull is found in the Wyche Elm, yes a cute play on words there, isn't it? Poor Toby - is anything that he thought true and real actually what it had seemed?

    Let me be frank with you, I only dabble in Tana French's series,

    . There are those that I absolutely adore and then there are those that I barely make it through. French does such an incredible, amazing job at developing her characters that if I don't connect with them, I don't enjoy the book.

    however, is a stand-alone and I love - have I already used the word love - Toby! My son's name is Toby and, ironically, my Toby and this Toby are very, VERY similar. It's not hard to see why I connected with the book, is it?

    More importantly, though, French creates a supporting cast of characters that are quirky, irritating, affable, hilarious and oh so very flawed. Through them, as they either look for the killer or attempt to cover up for the killer, we learn about family, forgiveness, love, mistakes, second-chances and, sadly, death. While there is definitely mystery and suspense here, this is not a "thriller." It is a slow simmering, beautifully written examination of family, particularly a family in crisis.

    Interestingly, as I have read other reviews and previews of the book, they seem to be divided into die-hard fans of the DMS and the rest of us and the ratings reflect that division. This is a book that stands on its own as a marvelously written, creative work that is well worth reading by die-hard fans as well as those of us who simply appreciate a well told tale. Well done Ms. French!

    FIVE emerald green Irish Stars for

  • Tammy

    Lucky and genial Toby meets the guys for a night out to celebrate his circumvention of a potentially career-wrecking incident at work. Afterwards, he is nearly beaten to death by intruders and his life changes dramatically. He lands at Ivy House to care for his terminally ill uncle and to recover from his own serious injuries. A skull is found in the Wych Elm which takes this finely crafted novel into the events of the past as experienced by the participants looking back from the present day. Im

    Lucky and genial Toby meets the guys for a night out to celebrate his circumvention of a potentially career-wrecking incident at work. Afterwards, he is nearly beaten to death by intruders and his life changes dramatically. He lands at Ivy House to care for his terminally ill uncle and to recover from his own serious injuries. A skull is found in the Wych Elm which takes this finely crafted novel into the events of the past as experienced by the participants looking back from the present day. Impaired and confused (or is he?), Toby tries to unravel the mystery of the skull which leads him to question who he was, who he believes himself to be, as well as, who he has become. His familial relationships are equally as distorted. This book crackles with realistic characterizations. At times, I felt as if I was listening to my husband and his friends good-naturedly jab at each other including that eye roll inducing middle school mentality that that tends to resurface when they are together. While a mystery exists, this book is more of a deep dive into the human psyche and an exploration of the perception of events from different points of view. I was transfixed.

  • Elyse Walters

    NO SPOILERS...

    .... safe to read....

    It’s a sin to spoil a Tana French novel.

    I’ve been reading Tana French since 2007. My memory is clear...I walked into “Borders” looking around...

    “Into the Woods” was a new release. I had never heard of the author - but liked what the inside flap said, took a blind chance, bought it... came home and inhaled it instantly. I became an ‘annoying’ book pusher.

    I was telling strangers off the street about the new mystery-thriller author Tana French and her amazing ch

    NO SPOILERS...

    .... safe to read....

    It’s a sin to spoil a Tana French novel.

    I’ve been reading Tana French since 2007. My memory is clear...I walked into “Borders” looking around...

    “Into the Woods” was a new release. I had never heard of the author - but liked what the inside flap said, took a blind chance, bought it... came home and inhaled it instantly. I became an ‘annoying’ book pusher.

    I was telling strangers off the street about the new mystery-thriller author Tana French and her amazing characters characters: Rob and Cassie...

    I *still* have never given up hope that Tana may one day bring back *Rob*, from “Into the Woods”.

    Regardless- Tana French is truly a great writer. She has a distinct voice in crime writing....

    And ‘this’ new 2018 release: “The Witch Elm”, is ‘closer’ in style with her first two books: “In The Woods”, and “The Likeness”... than....

    “Faithful Place”, “Broken Harbor”, “The Secret Place”, or “The Trespasser”....

    ...This is not the Dublin series -

    ...This is Tana’s first stand alone book...

    ...This is also her first book where the protagonist she introduces us to is not a detective. Instead, the protagonist we meet in “The Witch Elm”, *Toby*, doesn’t have any interest in police investigations or mysteries- he doesn’t have a deeply damage past or demons that haunt him.

    He’s been coasting through life as ‘cream-of-the-crop’ type guy-

    He’s annoying! He can’t even relate to average problems let alone have compassion for the homeless - the poor - or other misfortunate people.

    Toby is king of his universe: has ‘the girl”, “the right job”, “friends”, good looks, etc. !

    One ‘very-bad-horrible-very-bad- night-along with Toby’s ‘cocky confidence’, becomes his nemesis.

    Hot-shot, semi- arrogant -guy will have to re-evaluate his past and re-asses his identity after a serious ‘blow’.

    Not an easy task for a guy who always felt nothing major ever went wrong. As a guy that he himself felt was a lucky bastard, he became a kicking and screaming grouchy miserable pill as anyone would be - fighting to accept that he was facing a shitty raw deal.

    ‘New Normal’ were not words in ‘his’ vocabulary.

    The very beginning of this novel was sarcastic ‘f#ck-off’ dialogue between ‘guys’....men - pissin-in-the-wind....

    testosterone chatter....

    Toby and his two best guy friends: Dec and Sean were drinking in the pub.

    Guys speak to each other so different than women do to each other. It’s always a little fun for me to witness male-bonding.

    Many readers will think it’s a Tana French slow-start ( it is a slow start), but I liked the dialogue conversations better the 2nd time I re-read them than the first. ( I had started this book - put it aside- came back and started over once I could devote my full attention.

    There’s some weed pulling in this novel, but I don’t always mind pulling weeds - as it can be meditative—but when the exotic fragrant of ‘suspense’ becomes gripping...its ‘your-garden-of-eden-experience’.

    It takes a long time to understand Toby’s character. It’s clear - we are not suppose to love this guy...

    but it takes to the end of the book to understand why!!

    We spend a LONG time getting inside Toby’s head....

    When ‘the mystery murder’ starts moving like a speeding train...it’s hard to put this book down.

    The twists & turns are the roses in the oasis-

    Thorns and all -

    The prose is incandescent-

    Tana French does something fresh with every novel. Definitely with “The Witch Elm”.

    My advice -best to read this stand-alone novel knowing ‘very little’. It’s not a page turner per say.

    It took forever to get to ‘the mystery’ - but- it also kinda made sense once you finish it.

    Accept your weed pulling duty and you’ll be served a yummy glass of chilled lemonade as a reward!

    4.5 stars

  • karen

    ***********************************************

    OH MY GOD, IT'S HERE! AND IT'S NOT AN ARC - IT'S A FINISHED COPY AND IT'S MIIIIIIINE! goodbye, rest of day. you belong to tana french now.

    ***********************************************

    UPDATE - while my plan to corner an unscrupulous intern (harlequin presents #945: cornering the unscrupulous intern) may have failed, the universe has provided, and i am

    ***********************************************

    OH MY GOD, IT'S HERE! AND IT'S NOT AN ARC - IT'S A FINISHED COPY AND IT'S MIIIIIIINE! goodbye, rest of day. you belong to tana french now.

    ***********************************************

    UPDATE - while my plan to corner an unscrupulous intern (harlequin presents #945: cornering the unscrupulous intern) may have failed, the universe has provided, and i am going to be reviewing this for l.a. review of books - ARC is en route. A MOST FRABJOUS DAY, INDEED!!!

    ***********************************************

    these are the penguin random house offices in nyc. i am prepared to camp out in front of them until some kindly intern slips me an ARC of this.

  • Dorie  - Traveling Sister :)

    I had only read one book before from this author and that was “The Trespasser” which I loved. This book was just an o.k. read for me, here’s why.

    I’m getting a bit tired of unreliable narrators, this seems to be a trend lately. Toby is about as unreliable as you can get since he has suffered a severe brain injury right at the beginning of the story. It all starts, as he states, on the night that he walked home from the pub to his house quite drunk and went to bed without turning on the door alarm

    I had only read one book before from this author and that was “The Trespasser” which I loved. This book was just an o.k. read for me, here’s why.

    I’m getting a bit tired of unreliable narrators, this seems to be a trend lately. Toby is about as unreliable as you can get since he has suffered a severe brain injury right at the beginning of the story. It all starts, as he states, on the night that he walked home from the pub to his house quite drunk and went to bed without turning on the door alarm. During the night some men came in and robbed him. He interrupted their ransaking when he opened the door to the main room and turned on the lights. It was at this point that they beat him almost to the point of death.

    So the story started out with a bang. From there we have many hundreds of pages describing his recovery, his relationship with his girlfriend, Melissa, etc. Finally amidst all of this upheaval he gets a message that his Uncle Hugo is terminally ill and between suggestions from his mother and his own thoughts of wonderful summers spent at Uncle Hugo’s Ivy house with his cousins Susanna and Leon “, he decides to temporarily move there to keep an eye on his uncle and his health. To his happy surprise Melissa decides to join him. There are many weeks of things going quite happily, considering his uncle’s diagnosis. I have to say this part of the book really moved slowly for me.

    One Sunday Susanna and her family and Leon were visiting at the Ivy House, there is a blood chilling scream from the yard. “Zach and Sallie were standing at the bottom of the garden. Both of them were rigid, arms out in shock and by this time both of them were screaming, Sallie’s piercing inhuman high note rising above Zach’s ragged howls”. Turns out that the children have discovered a human skull in a deep hole in the Witch Elm in the garden. The adults do what seemed right at the time and called the police.

    The detectives spend weeks and weeks investigating the skull, ruining the garden with their digging and setting everyone’s nerves on edge. They did find an entire skeleton and identified it as Dominic, a friend of Toby’s and now they have to find out the reason the skeleton is here. Did his commit suicide as had originally been thought, did someone kill him, did he fall by accident?

    The story slows down quite a bit as we are introduced thoroughly to each of Toby’s cousins, what they were like when they were teens spending summers at the Ivy House and what they are like now. Ms. French relies entirely on our interest in her characters to move the story along, it doesn’t really make for a page turner. Her writing as always is superb and I always learn new words when reading her books. Here are a few for you to ponder: “hippogriff, decoction, burger and garrote.

    Just when things seem to be winding down and I was really getting tired of the book, bang, something really disturbing happens. This was at about 85% so it came as quite a shock. What ensues next is for you to discover as well as the ending.

    Ms. French did touch on some timely topics with this story including, family relations, bullying, PTSD and sexual harassment. I do love reading her novels just for the beautiful writing. My stars would be 5 for writing and 3 for slowness of the plot. On this afterthought I am changing my rating to 4 stars but remember you will have to have patience!

    I received an ARC of this novel from the publisher through Edelweiss.

    ADDENDUM: I have been asked by many patrons and friends how I liked this book so that is why I'm reposting :)

  • Susanne Strong

    I have read every book Tana French has ever written, so I knew what I was getting myself into. The slower build of the storyline, delving into every aspect of the characters’ personas and their machinations - which you either love or hate. I happen to love this - it makes me feel like I know her characters inside and out - I understand them like the back of my hand and I feel like I could live in their backyard, except for the fact that they all live in Ireland and I don’t! LOL.

    “The Witch Elm” is a standalone - a blend of literary fiction / a mystery, not a police procedural or a detective story, unlike her other novels to date. This one is different and it feels quite sinister, even from the very beginning. I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, on edge, stomach clenched. The characters are quirky, strange, hard to trust and frankly, a little slimy - and that my friends is where it gets interesting. Even up till the last second, I was never sure what was real and what wasn’t, who to trust or whether or not my instincts were right or not. C’est la vie.

    Everything has always gone Toby’s way. He’s just that kind of guy. You’ve met him before, you know, that good looking guy with the fairly successful job and the sly smile who can talk his way out of anything? That is exactly what Toby does – until one night when his apartment gets burgled and he gets assaulted. Afterwards, Toby suffers from neurological deficits, including memory loss, loss of function in his left arm, his hand and one of his legs. Frustrated, Toby knows that his life will never be the same.

    Unfortunately, this just isn’t a good year for Toby’s family – shortly after his assault, Toby’s Uncle Hugo suffers a stroke and is unable to take care of himself. The family is in bits about it, so Toby goes to look after him. Every weekend at the Ivy House, his cousins Susanna and Leon and the rest of his family come round. Everyone noshes on food, chills out by the fire, tells stories and reminisces. Then IT happens. While playing, Zach, one of Susanna’s kids, find a Skull inside “The Witch Elm” past the garden. A human skull, no joke. From the moment the Detectives arrive, nothing is the same. Of course all hell breaks loose, but then, what did you expect?

    I was all in from the first. These characters, like them or not, grabbed my attention and held on tight. I recommend this to readers who love the “feel” of a great book… how it feels deep in the bones (pun intended) when the characters sink in, when you hear their conversations in your head and you know every facet of their personality and you just can’t shake ‘em, no matter how hard you try.

    Tana French – in case it is not obvious, you are one of my go to authors. I am desperately waiting for a sequel to “In the Woods” – I need to know what Rob has been up to! Also, I cannot wait for another Antoinette Conway / Stephen Moran novel. I have mini-crushes on Rob and Stephen.. so help a girl out, would you please? Thank you!

    A huge thank you to Edelweiss, Penguin Publishing Group, Viking and Tana French for a complimentary copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

    Published on Edelweiss, Goodreads, Twitter and Instagram on 10.25.18.

  • Emily May

    I actually didn't love a

    book...

    . I just

    I jinxed it by writing that first paragraph in

    .

    I keep trying to convince myself to bump this up a star because it's hard to believe Tana French can write anything that isn't amazing. It's definitely not a bad book, but

    - French's first standalone outside of her

    series - just didn't contain a lot of the stuff I've loved from this author.

    To start with, I fee

    I actually didn't love a

    book...

    . I just

    I jinxed it by writing that first paragraph in

    .

    I keep trying to convince myself to bump this up a star because it's hard to believe Tana French can write anything that isn't amazing. It's definitely not a bad book, but

    - French's first standalone outside of her

    series - just didn't contain a lot of the stuff I've loved from this author.

    To start with, I feel like my love for French is centred around her awesome, snarky, flawed, messy, human detectives. The crimes are whatever; the detectives - their voices, quirks, passions and personal histories - are what make her books so damn addictive. I shipped Rob and Cassie so hard in

    , and Cassie herself made the implausible plot of

    actually okay. I will probably never get over Frank and Rosie from

    . And that's before we've got to Kennedy, Moran and the ferocious Antoinette Conway.

    Toby? He just doesn't compare. He's an asshole, but it's not that because sometimes assholes can be interesting (I might want to rewrite that sentence later). It's more that he's obnoxiously clueless, a self-proclaimed "lucky bastard" wrapped in a bubble of his own privilege. He's tall, blond and handsome, works at a PR firm, has a loving girlfriend and a group of good friends, and pretty much gets away with everything. He's a person who thinks this about poor, homeless people:

    Flaws are interesting, but Toby's casual misogyny, judgement of others, and condescension make him extremely irritating. Plus, French's narrators are typically smart and intuitive, so Toby's head-scratching was frustrating.

    I think I can trace a lot of my issues back to Toby. For example, I usually enjoy the long-winded nature of Tana French's books. She can get away with waffling on because I genuinely enjoy learning details about the characters, and listening to them have pages of dialogue about something unrelated to the plot. But I was so uninterested in Toby that huge chunks of this book made me want to go to sleep.

    , too. I get the point of the lengthy build-up in order to understand Toby as a character - someone who has been handed everything in life without having to face the struggles others would have, and someone who cannot believe it when he meets his first misfortune - but that didn't make it any more enjoyable to get through. It's a good hundred pages before the main story even rears its head.

    I also can't deny that I miss the exciting investigations and police procedure the detectives usually take us through.

    But I don't want this to get too negative. French does a lot of excellent things in this book and she digs into something interesting with Toby: how someone's luck, privilege, whatever-you-want-to-call-it can really affect not just a person's physical circumstances but their entire outlook on life. He's a conceptually fascinating individual, but it was so hard to find sympathy for him. It was this, in the end, that made me unable to care who the murderer was.

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  • Meredith

    Toby has had all the luck in the world. He has natural good looks and things come easily to him: his jobs, his friends, and his girlfriend. He comes from a loving upper-class Dublin family, who can offer financial support when needed. Needless to say, Toby hasn’t faced many struggles in his young life, until one night when his luck runs out and his life changes forever.

    Toby is the primary unreliable narrator. I enjoyed getting inside of his head. I was riveted for about the first 20%--

    What bothered me was not that there wasn’t much happening and the amount of information provided seemed superfluous.

    Tana French certainly knows how to write a sentence; her characters are finely crafted and well-developed. The setting is multidimensional and takes on a life of its own. I really enjoyed the ending and having the opportunity to witness a complete view of Toby’s transformation.

    I received an ARC of this book from Edelweiss and Penguin Publishing Group in exchange for an honest review.

  • Julie

    The Witch Elm by Tana French is a 2018 Viking Books publication.

    Luck. Toby has never really considered his, until now. He’s always had an easy go of things, able to talk himself out of any potential trouble or situation with his easy charm. But, Toby’s luck has changed overnight. First, he gets into serious trouble with his boss, then his home is broken into, and he is beaten within an inch of his life.

    While his parents and faithful, adoring girlfriend are rock solid support systems, Toby is i

    The Witch Elm by Tana French is a 2018 Viking Books publication.

    Luck. Toby has never really considered his, until now. He’s always had an easy go of things, able to talk himself out of any potential trouble or situation with his easy charm. But, Toby’s luck has changed overnight. First, he gets into serious trouble with his boss, then his home is broken into, and he is beaten within an inch of his life.

    While his parents and faithful, adoring girlfriend are rock solid support systems, Toby is interrogated about the robbery, almost as if he is the perpetrator and not the victim. If that weren’t bad enough, Toby gets word his uncle has been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. With the dual purpose of adjusting to his new normal and to help in the care of his uncle, Toby moves into the family ancestral home, along with his girlfriend. Toby’s two cousins whom he has seen little of over the years, are also in attendance. When one of his cousin’s children makes a ghastly discovery in the garden, Toby’ luck goes from bad to worse. Toby is suddenly quite vulnerable, especially with his memory lapses making it difficult for him to alibi himself. It looks like Toby’s luck may have finally run completely out…

    I have loved Tana French since ‘In the Woods’ and have read nearly all of her books since then. I was aware this book was not a part of the Dublin Murder Squad series, but I was super excited to see what French may have in store for me with this stand alone novel. I love TF's style and it is obvious she has some serious writing chops. However, this one was a huge letdown.

    The story got off to a strong start. Toby’s struggles to overcome the physical and psychological trauma he endured is very compelling and realistic. However, I wasn’t sure if I could trust Toby. As the detectives play games with him, I wondered who was behind the break in. Did it have to do with the trouble Toby got himself into at work? Why such a severe beating?

    I spent the first half of the book wondering when the crime elements would heat up, thinking this was the main thread of the story. Then somewhere around the midway mark, the center shifts away from that thread and lo and behold, there is a real live murder mystery to solve.

    Unfortunately, too much time was wasted getting to this part. The story moved so slowly, I started getting a little fidgety. The plot became knotty and cumbersome, and the pace never picked up, tempting me to do the unthinkable- mark a Tana French novel down as a DNF.

    I think I understood some of the deeper aspects of the story, such as, how we view ourselves compared to how others see us, how memory plays a role in our lives, how our actions, or inactions often have consequences we are not aware of, as we go merrily along our way. Every action has a reaction, as they say.

    In the end, I plodded onward, but there was something seriously off about the book’s structure, and that ending was utterly depressing. Yes, one might have a different point of view on that, but I’m going with the glass half empty on this one. It pains me to rate this one so low, but sadly, it just didn’t work for me.

    2 stars

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