Friday, October 30, 2020

Fiction Review: The Witch Elm

My husband and I are both huge fans of Tana French's Dublin Murder Squad series. So far, I have read In the Woods, The Likeness, and Faithful Place, and each one was even better than the last! This fall, though, during the #RIPXV Challenge, I decided to take a break from the series and give her highly-acclaimed stand-alone novel, The Witch Elm, a try. As suspected, it was a satisfying mystery, filled with unexpected surprises and plenty of tension and perfect for the season.

Toby thinks he is a very lucky person. He's living a wonderful life, with a PR job he loves, great friends from his old school days, and a loving, kind girlfriend named Melissa. Sure, there's been an issue at work that he could have handled better, but his luck held out, he still has his job, and life is good. He enjoys a night out with his two best friends to celebrate his continued good fortune. That night ends in tragedy, though, when two men break into his apartment, steal a bunch of stuff, and beat him so severely that he is barely alive. He spends months in the hospital and suffers a brain injury and PTSD, in addition to all his other injuries. Then, the bad news piles up, and he finds out that his beloved Uncle Hugo is dying of brain cancer. Toby and Melissa move into the ancestral home, where Hugo lives, to take care of his uncle. This turns out to be good for Toby, too, as he gets stronger and better emotionally in the comforting place, filled with happy childhood memories, and they both enjoy Hugo's company. Their peace and happiness are disrupted, though, when a human skull is found in the back garden. Soon, the police have dug up the entire backyard and are swarming the house and interviewing all the family members, including Toby and the cousins he grew up, Susanna and Leon. The three of them spend long hours not only reminiscing now, but trying to figure out what happened and how. Little by little, Toby's lucky life falls apart, as crises occur and his happy past is torn apart by the investigation. How did that skull end up in the garden?

Tana French is known for her twisty, dark novels, but this one is super twisty and dark! She does a great job, as always, of creating an immersive setting and realistic characters that are fully fleshed out. I felt like I knew Toby and his family and was a part of their story. The plot curves, bends, and doubles back on itself, constantly presenting new surprises for the reader that make this an engrossing book that is hard to put down. I read it while sick, and it was the perfect sick-week book to keep me engaged and forgetting about my own problems. The surprises continue right up until the end and kept me rapt. This intriguing mystery also delves into thoughtful questions of family, loyalty, identity, and luck. It's a compelling and beautifully-written novel ... just don't expect a happy ending!

509 pages, Penguin Books

Penguin Audio 

If you love Tana French's books as much as we do, check out the TV show, Dublin Murders (available on Starz, Hulu, or Amazon) - my review and a trailer at the link - we loved season 1!

Note: This post contains affiliate links. Purchases from these links provide a small commission to me (pennies per purchase), to help offset the time I spend writing for this blog, at no extra cost to you. 

Listen to a sample of the audiobook here and/or download it from Audible. It sounds like a great audio production! 


You can purchase The Witch Elm from an independent bookstore, either locally or online, here:

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You can also buy through indie bookstores using Bookshop.


Or you can order The Witch Elm from Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide.


  1. I have to admit that I have yet to read a Tana French novel. I think I might be the only book blogger who hasn't. I'll have to check them all out and see which one to start with. What do you suggest?

    1. I would start with Into the Woods. They don't have to be read in order because each book is a separate case, but the stories of the detectives often carry through to later books, so the character development is richer if you read them in order. Enjoy!