Author: Tana French
Pub Date: October 9, 2018
FLW Rating: 4/5
How do you review the QUEEN? Tana French has been my favorite author for my whole adult reading life, so I feel a little wrong writing anything but a glowing review. This is also a tricky one to review since I’ve been so in love with French’s Dublin Murder Series, and this was her first standalone novel. This book was totally different than her others (mainly that you didn’t follow the lives of ANY detectives!) but I totally enjoyed it in its own right — I’m just also ready to read another Dublin Murder Series book next. 🙂
The Witch Elm is a dark and moody mystery that demonstrates the fact that you never know you can trust — including yourself, your long-term partner, or your closest family members. At the opening of the novel, Toby experienced a break-in and assault, leaving him helpless and with some potential permanent brain damage. While Toby is recovering by spending time with his dying uncle, a dead body is recovered at the house, and everyone in the family becomes a suspect. Written as less of a “Clue” who-done-it puzzle, and more of an internal psychological monologue, the reader follows along while Toby struggles to determine what he knows and what he’s tricked himself in to believing.
What Tana French does well (understatement of the century), in all books, is writing group dynamics. My favorite book of hers is The Likeness, in which one of the detectives actually goes undercover to investigate a murder by living with a group of the victims friends. (A few people I know have their issues with this one, because it’s pretty unrealistic, but I think it’s a perfect demonstration of how masterfully French writes group dynamics.) In The Witch Elm, the “group” explored was primarily Toby and his two cousins, who he grew up with. Suspicion was cast in all directions, and my favorite part of the book was trying to identify the motives of each character.
What I struggled with was the use of monologues throughout the books. In some cases, like Emma in the Night, I kind of love a big monologue reveal, but after a while in this book, I started to feel like it was just one big series of monologues. Additionally, it felt like the direction of these monologues changed suddenly — all of a sudden Toby would have an idea and begin a full reveal on his current theory, then something would come up and he would begin another. An unintended consequence was that it made the book feel like a TV series. I actually had a moment when I thought to myself “I can’t wait to get home, so I can keep watching my show!” and then remembered that it was a book. Ha! That’s never happened to me before.
Overall, I really enjoyed this book – the mystery and the drama I had been hoping for was present, and ultimately I got lost in the story and couldn’t wait to pick up the book to keep reading every time I had the chance. I read this book while traveling solo and since every time I opened it I felt submerged in their world, it was the perfect book to keep me company!