Tana French’s novel “The Witch Elm,” is full of twists. The book is part mystery, part family drama and part psychological study. The story starts out slow but it is worth a read.
We are first introduced to Toby Hennessy. He is lucky and has been told that throughout his life. Toby is a charmer and everything just falls into place for him. Tall, blond and handsome, he is from a loving upper class Dublin family, has a good job and a great girlfriend.
In typical Toby fashion he is able to talk his way out of his involvement in a scandal at the art gallery where he works. Proud of his luck in to keeping his job, Toby joins his best pals Dec and Sean to celebrate at the local pub. When Toby arrives home after a night of celebrating he surprises two burglars who nearly beat him to death.
Recovering from a traumatic brain injury, Toby wonders if he will ever fully recover. One of his legs and an arm don’t function fully, his speech is slurred and his memories are sporadic. Toby and his girlfriend Melissa decide to move to the family home, the Ivy House, to help care for his dying Uncle Hugo. This will give Toby time to recover while helping out his uncle, who has terminal brain cancer.
Toby is very familiar with Ivy House, he grew up spending summers there with his cousins Suzanne and Leon and their Uncle Hugo. Toby may fond memories of those summers but Suzanne and Leon don’t, a fact that Toby isn’t aware of.
Suzanne, Leon, and their parents, and Toby’s parents continue to have their traditional Sunday dinners at the Ivy House. While attending one of those dinners, Suzanne’s son finds a human skull in the trunk of a tree. The focus of the story then shifts from the robbery at Toby’s apartment to the skull and subsequent murder investigation.
As the murder is investigated you are sent into the past and share the experiences of the three cousins growing up at the Ivy House. Sean, Toby and Suzanne reveal their pasts there, three very different perspectives. It is here that the story begins to have many twists, the plot growing more engaging.
This murder mystery has suspense but it is not a thriller. It’s an apt examination of a family in crisis, a tale of actions and inactions, all of which have consequences; for every action there is a reaction. I recommend “The Witch Elm” if you are a patient reader who can wade through abundant dialogue and detail at the onset.