Tana French is an Irish author known primarily for her award-winning Dublin Murder Squad series. Much as I love mysteries, I haven’t read a single one of the books in this series.
But something about her latest book — The Witch Elm — caught my interest. Perhaps it was the title, as I am a sucker for an interesting title — and for witches, for that matter. The Witch Elm, unfortunately, featured no witches and was not nearly as interesting as the title suggested. The only thing that kept me reading was the author’s talent for writing. Her talent for character creation certainly lacks substance, at least as far as this novel indicates.
By his own definition, Toby is one lucky fellow. He also happens to be one of the the least likable characters I’ve ever encountered in a book. He has lived a charmed life, which has resulted in him getting by with a lot of incompetence and mischief that most wouldn’t. He is, in fact, celebrating with his friends the fact that he wasn’t fired from his lucrative job for cause the night his life changes forever.
After returning home, he is surprised by burglars, who not only take his valuable belongings, but beat him nearly to death. He survives, but serious head injuries keep him in the hospital for a long time, and he is cognitively challenged.
Once released, he decides to spend time with his much-loved Uncle Hugo, who is dying of cancer. The house has been in the family for a long time, and is the family’s Sunday gathering place. It is one of these Sundays that Toby’s young niece and nephew come across a human head in the trunk of the wych elm tree in the home’s front yard.
How did the head get in the tree? Who’s head is it? Is one of the family members a murderer? Since Toby has lost long-term memory, he even wonders if HE’S a murderer.
The plot is interesting, no doubt. Unfortunately, at least for this reader, the characters were so inherently unlikable that I wanted them ALL to be guilty and put away forever. The only redeeming character was Toby’s girlfriend Melissa, and I wondered throughout the book how she could put up with his whining and unrelenting anger.
I honestly can’t recommend this book.