REVIEW: The Wych Elm

This book has been sitting on my To Be Read shelves for a while now and all I can say is ‘why didn’t I read it sooner’?

This is a real corker of a psychological thriller and the only reason I actually got around to reading it is because I let my husband choose what I should read next. Maybe I should do that more often.

Now I have to say, it took a while to get into. In fact, I’ll be brutally honest and tell you that I have in fact read the first three or four pages of this novel three or four times and each time I spotted something else on the bookshelf that took my fancy more and abandoned this for that.

Not this time and I am so pleased.

I have a couple of Tana French novels on the bookshelves but this is the first that I’ve read. French is an American/Irish author, born in Vermont and living in Dublin since 1990. She is the author of The Dublin Murders series, two of which have been adapted for television and I have watched them not realising it was her work.

The Wych Elm, however, is a stand-alone novel, first published in 2018 and running to a nicely substantial 510 pages.

Toby goes home after a drunken night out with friends and is attacked in his flat by two masked men and left for dead. He suffers a serious head injury which leads to severe headaches, slurring of words, a slight limp and a psychological trauma.

Then his unmarried uncle gets diagnosed with terminal cancer and his two cousins suggest that Toby moves in with his uncle at the old family home they call the Ivy House to recover from his own injuries and be there for Uncle Hugo whose condition is deteriorating.

Toby and his girlfriend do just that but shortly after they move in a human skull is discovered inside an old Wych Elm tree in the garden.

The body, it transpires, is that of a young man who went to school with Toby and his cousin Leon and who used to sexually harass cousin Susannah. Soon all three cousins, Uncle Hugo, his three brothers and their wives are suspects in the murder nine years old and no one appears to be telling the truth.

I thought I had this plot sussed out reasonably early on. I was wrong. French builds a nice juicy twisty tale that has you changing your mind at the turn of a page. The characters are convincing, the story compelling and the depiction of Toby’s injury and how it affects him mentally and physically is very convincing.

I ploughed through this at a rate of knots because it is a real page turner and the ending – well, I would never have guessed it in a million years but it made sense.

The Times said this book was one of the ‘most compulsive psychological thrillers since Donna Tartt’s The Secret History’, which I now really want to read again.

And maybe I’ll pick another Tana French book from the shelves very soon.

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