The Threepenny Review

Gothic Detection

The Witch Elm by Tana French. Viking/Penguin, 2018, $28.00 cloth, $17.00 paper.

AT THE gates of the Underworld, wrote Virgil, rises an elm “of vast extent,” spreading its “branches and aged arms, around which false dreams cling and attach themselves beneath each leaf.” Here Aeneas plucks the golden bough and wins access to the shadowy realm, where those who have been lost stand in judgment of those who have survived.

For a dream to be revealed as false, there must be a rupture. It’s the discovery of a secret within the deep clench of an elm tree, and the elm’s subsequent destruction, that mark the point of no return in Tana French’s latest mystery, The Witch Elm.

Celebrating a narrowly missed disaster at work, Toby Hennessy—twentyeight years old, white, middle-class, and smugly normative—stumbles home after a boozy night, only to intercept a pair

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