- Title: The Witch Elm
- Author: Tana French
- Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Contemporary
- Words to describe: Wordy, meandering, cumbersome
- Publication Date: July 2019
- Publisher: Penguin Books
- Rating: 3/5 stars
I’m not sure what I think of this book.
It was a standard mystery, and it meandered more than it should have. A skull is found in a tree partway through the book, which sets off the rest of the plot. The murder that takes place years before the book’s current setting is committed by not one, but two, of the main characters, which ended up being both a surprise…and not. I thought there was only one murderer, ended up being two, but wasn’t unexpected.
I did like that the narrator was unreliable, and though I don’t dislike him, I don’t particularly like him, either. Which is fine, and part of his characterization, but he seems…I can’t put my finger on it.
The way the story progresses, most things make sense, but there are elements that are too disbelieving. Hugo, the uncle, for example, is dying, and ends up sacrificing himself for one of the main characters. Not unsurprising, and makes sense. However, he’s been working as a genealogist, and the story covers part of his last job: a woman wants to know her family history and needed his help. And though I understand that that subplot was showcasing Hugo’s work, it didn’t make sense as a plot point. I can accept, though, that it was separate and move on.
However, the book begins with the assault of the main character, Toby. Two men break into his apartment and beat him near to death, leaving him with brain injury that takes him much treatment to recover from.
And though the person behind the assault is revealed, it came as a surprise- and not a good one. It felt forced, without enough fodder, and though I accept the reasoning, it fell flat.
The story does show Toby’s decline from rich, handsome, charismatic, to broken, lonely, and a ghost of himself. This is expected, considering how his life turned out, but I did expect and want more for him. I ended up not liking him at the end, which threw off my feelings for the book. I don’t blame Melissa, his significant other, for leaving him.
None of the characters were particularly likable, save for Hugo. And even he didn’t make much sense to me at times. The cousins, Susanna, seems like a snob, and, Leon seems like an insecure man-child. Toby seems mundane, and Melissa is kind but also too kind that I wondered at times if she was genuine. The investigators seems cliche rough and rude types, and their behavior didn’t make sense to me.
The book was repetitive and far too words to be enjoyed fully. It could have been edited better, and could have been much shorter, which would have packed more of a punch.
Now, I do think the book is a study in self-perception and memory, and how our past shapes our future not just by our actions, but by our memories of them. So from that angle, I can see the book’s potential, but that’s jut the issue: the book’s potential. And that potential wasn’t realized.