Jessica Ryan

Tana French previews her thrilling new mystery The Witch Elm

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For Tana French fans, the news of a new novel can only be met with celebration.

And indeed, that was exactly the reaction when it was announced earlier this year that the revered mystery writer would have a new title out by the end of 2018. Even more exciting: It’d mark her first-ever standalone work, a departure from her beloved Dublin Murder Squad series. It’ll still showcase French’s preference for engrossing mystery and detailed character work, only in an entirely new context.

The Witch Elm centers on Toby, a happy-go-lucky charmer who’s dodged a scrape at work and is celebrating with friends when the night takes a turn that will change his life: two burglars beat him and leave him for dead. Struggling to recover from his injuries, beginning to understand that he might never be the same man again, he takes refuge at his family’s ancestral home to care for his dying uncle Hugo. Then a skull is found in the trunk of an elm tree in the garden, and as detectives close in, Toby is forced to face the possibility that his past may not be what he has always believed.

French spoke to EW to preview the book and what motivated her to tell this story, as well as exclusively unveil the cover. She notes, particularly, that this was the first time she was dealing with a protagonist who isn’t a detective. “Unlike most of my narrators, [Toby] did not have a deeply damaged past or demons to confront,” she adds. “He’s just a happy guy. He has no interest in police or mysteries. That seemed to dictate the shape of the book.”

French always writes with a rich sense of place, and that won’t change her. Particularly, she teases about Toby’s ancestral home, a place which he idealized throughout his life, that she uses it to dig up family secrets. “When a skeleton shows up down the trunk of a tree, that explodes all that illusion that he’d built up in his head,” French explains. “It means he has to reassess not only who he is; he also has to reassess what his past has been. Because clearly, if there’s a skeleton down that tree, then something in that house has not been as perfect as he thought for quite a long time.”

French would rather not give too much away, given that she hopes fans find “a few really good surprises” in The Witch Elm. So details will remain pretty spare for now. Until the book’s release on Oct. 9, you can pre-order your copy here and check out the spooky, exclusive cover below.

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