Clay’s Pick

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The Witch Elm
By Tana French
ISBN 978-80735224629
Publication Date: October 2018

The Witch Elm

Review by Clay Stafford

Toby Hennessey is not much different from you or me. He’s just an average guy going through his life. He’s a resilient sort, lucky one would say, and barely escapes losing his job at work when he is caught in a little discrepancy. But matters are about to get worse. Toby’s apartment is robbed and he is beaten to human pulp. As happens, his brain and memories are not what they used to be. He can’t work and to pass his time while he is healing, Toby’s mother suggests that he temporarily stay with his dying uncle at the old family home, the Ivy House. The two can keep each other company. The therapy seems to work and is going along swell until a skeleton is literally found in the backyard. At that point, it becomes a question of how did it get there and, without memories to help him remember, Toby is at a loss for how to deal with it.

            “The Witch Elm” is a detailed character study. I was drawn immediately into the character and point of view of Toby. It’s a longish book (over 500 pages), but one that kept me engaged throughout. French is a writer whose sense of place and character are unmatched. An international bestseller with her Dublin Murder Squad series, this is a standalone that does not disappoint. Because you’ll be so involved, you’ll want to read it quickly, but you’ll also find you’ll want to slow down just to savor the language and nuances of the story. It is not often a story can be told as much with dialogue, more so than even with description. Tana French writes a tale that makes you want to read it again immediately after the first time through.

            Tana French is the author of six New York Times bestselling books (this one will make seven) and is the winner of the Edgar, Anthony, Macavity, and Barry Awards. She lives in Dublin, Ireland with her family.

Clay Stafford is an award-winning author, screenwriter, and filmmaker. He has sold over 1.5 million hardcover copies of his children’s adaptations and has seen his film work distributed internationally in over 14 languages. Four of his five staged murder mysteries have had Los Angeles premieres. He has reviewed books, plays, and films, writes near-daily book reviews for the Killer Nashville Book of the Day, has been quoted on book jackets, and has edited several PBS companion books associated with national series. Publishers Weekly has named Stafford one of the top 10 Nashville literary leaders playing “an essential role in defining which books become bestsellers” not only in middle-Tennessee, but also extending “beyond the city limits and into the nation’s book culture.” (PW 6/10/13). He is the founder of Killer Nashville ( and publisher of Killer Nashville Magazine ( He has served on the board of numerous nonprofits. Clay has a B.A. and M.F.A. and has been a professor or lecturer to several major universities. His list of current projects includes the award-winning feature-length documentary “One Of The Miracles: The Inge Meyring Smith Story” ( and the music CD “XO” with fellow mystery writer Jeffery Deaver ( Previously associated with Universal Studios and PBS, he is currently President / CEO of American Blackguard, Inc. (, a publishing/film and television/ music/entertainment company near Nashville, Tennessee. More information can be found at