Tana French: The Wych Elm


Life has been good to Toby Hennessy.  Always popular and successful, not even any  teenage angst, with an ideal job straight out of university and a loveable girlfriend, Melissa.  His mates grumble that he’s such a “lucky prick”, but they still love him. Then, in a single night, everything goes wrong. An apparently random attack leaves him severely traumatised and devastated by the loss of his perfect self.

It’s right then that he’s needed to look after his uncle Hugo in the old family home, the Ivy House.  Still scrambled in his thoughts, with holes in his memory and struggling to concentrate, he is beginning to relax into the atmosphere of mutual, grave, tender and careful kindness he, Melissa and Hugo are creating when everything is blown apart again with the discovery of a skeleton in the trunk of an ancient elm in the garden.  The police are everywhere, they seem to suspect him, and he begins to think that his cousins Susanna and Leon are setting him up. The more the past is gone over, the more his view of his own history and character is overturned until he doesn’t know who he is or what he might have done.

Toby’s state of mind, the criss-crossing layers of doubt about who people really are and what their motives might be, the faulty view of others that our ego creates,  and the genuine suspense – all this is masterfully done, as are the scenes of family life in the beloved old house. It’s psychologically very convincing and very cunningly plotted. A great read.

10 thoughts on “Tana French: The Wych Elm

  1. I keep hearing very positive things about this author, so maybe I should give her a try. My only concern is whether her work might prove too unsettling for me. It’s the reason why I usually stick to vintage crime where everything happens back in the past.

    1. I wouldn’t call it unsettling. It’s not graphically violent or creepy and it doesn’t give a bleak view of the world of today. It’s really more about how ordinary people deal with things that just come out of the blue, how easily our sense of self can wobble when we get off the safe tramlines of our everyday life.

  2. Less disturbing than most crime novels. The protagonist’s injuries which cracks open his self perception is nicely done, very intriguing. Pretty unlovable characters but its the genre for that.

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