Review: The Witch Elm by Tana French

: The Witch Elm
Author: Tana French
Pages: 464
Genre: Mystery
Source: Free ARC from Viking

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐ 

Note: As stated under the Source (above), I received this book for free from Viking via Edelweiss. I pride myself on writing fair and honest reviews.

Goodreads Summary

“Toby is a happy-go-lucky charmer who’s dodged a scrape at work and is celebrating with friends when the night takes a turn that will change his life: he surprises two burglars who beat him and leave him for dead. Struggling to recover from his injuries, beginning to understand that he might never be the same man again, he takes refuge at his family’s ancestral home to care for his dying uncle Hugo. Then a skull is found in the trunk of an elm tree in the garden – and as detectives close in, Toby is forced to face the possibility that his past may not be what he has always believed.

The Witch Elm asks what we become, and what we’re capable of, when we no longer know who we are.”


A few things worth noting:

  1. I finished this book about two months ago.
  2. It took me two months to finish it.
  3. This is the first Tana French I’ve ever read.

Having never read Tana French before, but also having so many reader friends who LOVE her Dublin Murder Squad series, I was thrilled to find this standalone available on Edelweiss. AND I was super excited about reading it. SuperExcited.

The Witch Elm started off on strong footing. The quality of the writing, the feel of it, was right on par with what I’d been told. Intelligent, atmospheric, good character building. And the beginning of the story was intriguing. But. The crime that takes place initially is really a stage setter, not the main event, and once the story diverted from that, I felt disconnected. The mystery aspect wasn’t especially compelling. It was lacking any semblance of suspense. It felt a great deal more like a family drama, and I didn’t really care for it in that respect either. Of all the characters, only Toby’s girlfriend and uncle were remotely likeable. The rest I found irritating and couldn’t give two figs for. 

Ultimately, this book was more about the characters than the mystery aspect, which would be fine if: a) that’s what I was expecting and b) the characters were worth studying. Since neither case was true, I was quite disappointed. In hindsight, it’s really no shock that it took me so long to get through it (and did I mention I found it overly long?). However, I will absolutely set aside this middling reading experience and give Ms. French another go, but next time, I’ll stick to the series she is famous for.

16 Replies to “Review: The Witch Elm by Tana French”

    • It was a bit of a bummer, but I believe it is her first step away from her series, so I’m willing to give her another shot. But if I don’t like the first book in the series, I’ll call it.

  1. Sorry this didn’t work out so well for you Myndi. I have this one and am looking forward to trying it out (my first Tana French Book too). Hope the series works out better for you. 😊❤️

    • Huh. That’s good to know! Well, it could very well be she’s just not for me. I’ll read the first in the series to confirm…eventually. But I have to admit, I’m in less of a hurry than I was previously. :/

  2. Love your review!
    I only ever read one book by this author and that was kinda slow as well and focused on the characters. That one worked out well tho, cuz i found them really interesting.
    I have this one on my list as well, kinda curious. The tile / cover are kinda cool.

    • Thanks, Norrie! You are the second person to say the same about her first book. At least when I get around to reading that, I’ll know what to expect. Maybe that will improve my feelings about that book. 😉

      Completely agree on the cover! It’s pretty fab.

    • Thanks, Jen! I’ve wanted to read the Dublin Murder Squad series for quite awhile, but you know how it goes. When this standalone galley came up, I thought it was a great opportunity to “try her on” without delving into the series. Oh well.

    • Normally, I wouldn’t. But it’s Tana French, and I was convinced it was me. And the writing style was excellent, I just didn’t care much for the story.

  3. Sorry this book was not what you were expecting Myndi. I have this one to read and am a bit worried now. It will get read, but I am not in a big hurry. At least I know what to expect when I do get to it.

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