TITLE: The Witch Elm
AUTHOR: Tana French
I finished reading this book weeks ago, but a broken arm made typing difficult, so I waited until now to attempt the review.
This is a standalone book by the author of The Dublin Murder Squad books. As an aside, I've been watching the STARZ series of those mysteries and while I'm enjoying it, I find the combining of the first two books into one season is a bit disjointed. And while I like all the castings, the actor playing Frank is nothing like I'd pictured. Now, back to the scheduled book review.
The narrator, Toby seemingly has it all. A good job, a great girlfriend, and a couple of best buds, along with amazing good luck. He's always considered himself lucky, but a fateful night changes that. After spending a night drinking at a pub with those besties, he ends up surprising burglars at his home and suffers a terrible beating, including a head injury that leaves him with gaps in his memory and psychological scars. After a few weeks in the hospital, he's coaxed into staying with a beloved uncle who has recently been diagnosed with brain cancer. His uncle's house has been in the family for a few generations, which brings back memories of the summers he and his two cousins spent there during their childhood and teens.
Things seem to be going well with Toby's recovery until the day a skull is found in the hollow of an old elm tree in the garden. When the skull is identified as belonging to a boy Toby and his cousins knew in school, a boy everyone thought had jumped to his death after graduation, Toby has to face the reality that his memories of the past, what he knew and what he didn't know, were not what he'd thought. Family secrets are uncovered as the police investigate. The mystery of how the victim died, then who killed him, is almost secondary to Toby's mental unraveling. French has woven an intriguing story involving PTSD, memory, the lies we tell ourselves, and the nature of identity. Her attention to details, of grounding her characters in reality, made me care deeply for Toby, his cousins, and his uncle.