When I first heard that Tana French’s newest book was going to be a stand-alone and not part of her Dublin Murder Squad series, I was disappointed but I am certainly not disappointed any longer. I just finished reading The Witch Elm late this afternoon after being immersed in it all day and I feel like I have just emerged from a fog wondering why I’m not sitting at Ivy House.
The narrator for this novel is Toby who to this point has led a rather easy life. It seemed like he breezed through high school with none of the regular issues that most teenagers go through; he had a job that he liked and a girlfriend that he could envision marrying. This all changes one night when he is attacked in his apartment, robbed and left with a pretty significant brain injury. After several weeks in the hospital, he returns home to his apartment but cannot settle in despite the support of his girlfriend, Melissa. During this time, he finds out that his uncle Hugo has been diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor and has been told by doctors that he has about five or six months to live.
Hugo has lived in the family home (Ivy House) all his life. He never married or had children and has led a simple, quiet and comfortable life there. Ivy House is loved by the whole family and every Sunday without fail, all the family shows up to have lunch together and catch up on everyone’s week. Toby and his two cousins, Leon and Susanna spent most of their childhood summers there with Hugo and everyone has great love and respect for him.
Because Toby cannot currently work due to his brain injury, his family ask that he go and stay with Hugo to help him with meals and be company for him. At first Toby is reluctant to do so but he convinces Melissa to go with him and they are soon settled into Ivy House with Hugo.
One Sunday when everyone is gathered at Ivy House, one of Susanna’s children discovers a skull in the hollow of the Wych Elm, detectives are called in and the mystery beings. When Tana French talks about the tree in the book, it is spelt Wych Elm – I’m not sure why she called the book The Witch Elm with the different spelling.
This is definitely a slow burn of a novel; in fact, the body isn’t found in the elm tree until page 165 (hardcover edition). Not to worry though, all the pages leading up to the discovery is good detailed information that you will need to in order to really understand the characters.
In all the Dublin Murder Squad books by this author, the reader gets to be on the side of the detectives and “in the know” when it comes to the investigation. We have the inside track as to who the suspects are and what leads the detectives have, etc. One thing I found different about this book as a reader is that we are on the outside trying to look in. We have no access to what is happening within the investigation and who the detectives really think committed the murder. It was certainly a departure from French’s previous books but a job well done regardless. I think it safe to say that whatever she publishes in the future, I will definitely read.