The Witch Elm ~ by Tara French

Excellent book!  Be warned that it’s slow,  but I knew that beforehand and settled in for long weekend read.  Tana French is a favorite crime writer and Paul Nugent is a new-to-me narrator who turned out to be great.   I was rewarded handsomely.  

This book is different from French’s prior novels, though.  The six books in The Dublin Murder Squad series are all police procedurals,  a series of sorts, but with a different lead character in each book.    The Witch Elm is set in and around Dublin and involves a murder, hence the Murder Squad (probably) does make an appearance,  but the book is from the point of view of a suspect.  


The Witch Elm
by Tana French
2018 / 526 pages
read by Paul Nugent – 22h 7m
rating:  A++ / crime

Toby is a young man, in his late 20s or early 30s, who works for an art gallery, has a number of friends, a close family and a fiancé who loves him dearly.   He’s generally a happy man who admits to sometimes using his innate charm to get what he wants.  Very engaging but not entirely trustworthy.  (But one does alway suspect unreliable narrators in 1st person narratives.) 

One day he wanders into aiding a crime related to his job.  He’s gets in trouble there but keeps is job.  Then he is robbed and left for dead at his apartment. He lands in the hospital instead of the grave and is incapacitated for several months. This event leads to some dealings with the police and his own idea that the job stupidity led to the burglary-assault. . Whatever,  the point is he’s missing some mental functions. 

At six months into his recovery the beloved single uncle of the cousins needs Toby to assist him with end-of life management as Hugo has brain cancer.  It’s not far and it’s the very large home he and his cousins,  Susanna and Leon, have spent many happy days at all through their youths and they continue to enjoy the place and its lovely setting.  

At a weekend get-together the Sue’s children are playing in the yard and the young boy starts screaming.  While playing treasure hunt he’s found a human skull in the tree.  This is what brings the police.  

As it turns out the skull belonged to a young man who was a friend of Toby’s from high school days,  about 10 years prior,  who had gone missing and presumed a suicide.  Toby can’t remember much and when the murder squad starts investigating this incident that creates some difficulties.  

The murder investigation complicates every facet of Tony’s life and the tension mounts because even he doesn’t really know if he committed the murder or not.  He thinks not.  He thinks someone else did it but with only a bit of his memory available,  he doesn’t really know.    

French never tells a tale quickly and she certainly takes her time with this one, carefully developing characters and setting as she slowly and expertly builds the tension.  Very enjoyable.