Title: The Weight of Blood by Laura McHugh
Publisher: Spiegel & Grau (Random House Publishing Group)
Genre: Contemporary, Fiction, Mystery
Length: 320 pages
Book Rating: A
Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley
For fans of Gillian Flynn, Scott Smith, and Daniel Woodrell comes a gripping, suspenseful novel about two mysterious disappearances a generation apart.
The town of Henbane sits deep in the Ozark Mountains. Folks there still whisper about Lucy Dane’s mother, a bewitching stranger who appeared long enough to marry Carl Dane and then vanished when Lucy was just a child. Now on the brink of adulthood, Lucy experiences another loss when her friend Cheri disappears and is then found murdered, her body placed on display for all to see. Lucy’s family has deep roots in the Ozarks, part of a community that is fiercely protective of its own. Yet despite her close ties to the land, and despite her family’s influence, Lucy—darkly beautiful as her mother was—is always thought of by those around her as her mother’s daughter. When Cheri disappears, Lucy is haunted by the two lost girls—the mother she never knew and the friend she couldn’t save—and sets out with the help of a local boy, Daniel, to uncover the mystery behind Cheri’s death.
What Lucy discovers is a secret that pervades the secluded Missouri hills, and beyond that horrific revelation is a more personal one concerning what happened to her mother more than a decade earlier.
The Weight of Blood is an urgent look at the dark side of a bucolic landscape beyond the arm of the law, where a person can easily disappear without a trace. Laura McHugh proves herself a masterly storyteller who has created a harsh and tangled terrain as alive and unforgettable as the characters who inhabit it. Her mesmerizing debut is a compelling exploration of the meaning of family: the sacrifices we make, the secrets we keep, and the lengths to which we will go to protect the ones we love.
With a potent combination of compelling characters, an intriguing mystery and a vivid setting, Laura McHugh’s The Weight of Blood springs vibrantly to life. Set in Henbane, a fictitious town in the Ozarks, seventeen year old Lucy Bane unwittingly unearths an appalling family secret after discovering a valuable clue that could possibly lead to the identity of her friend’s killer.
The small town of Henbane is rocked by the discovery of Cheri Stoddard’s dismembered body, but the police investigation does not yield any clues as to where she was for the year prior to her death or who killed the young woman. Lucy, Cheri’s only friend, feels guilty over not doing more for her lost friend and after she finds evidence in a very unexpected place, she keeps digging for answers and her investigation leads to disquieting information about her mother Lila who vanished without a trace fifteen years earlier.
Lucy is, in many ways, a typical teenager. She has a summer job working for her Uncle Crete and she, along with her friend Bess, get up to the usual teenage shenanigans (breaking curfew, going to parties, etc). Her dad, Carl, is gone for long stretches of time working out of town, and their neighbor Birdie keeps a close eye on her. Lucy knows bits and pieces about her mom so when her search for information about Cheri’s death leads to information that links Cheri and Lila to Crete, Lucy tenaciously continues her search for the truth about what happened to both women.
The Weight of Blood unfolds from multiple points of view, but Lucy and Lila are the predominate storytellers. Lila’s chapters fill in vital background information about the events leading up to her disappearance and Lucy’s of course detail the ongoing discoveries in the present. While the majority of the chapters alternate between Lila and Lucy, later in the story, chapters from supporting characters provide information that is crucial to the storyline.
Although it is a little predictable at times, the plot is nicely executed. The characters are quite engaging, richly developed and sympathetic. Henbane is an insular community and as often happens with small towns, outsiders are viewed with suspicion by the townspeople whose families have often lived there for numerous generations. Families stand together, and their tight bonds sometimes blind them to one another’s faults.
A gritty coming of age story, The Weight of Blood is an exceptionally well-written and riveting inaugural novel by Laura McHugh. The cast of characters is colorful, the plot is realistic and although the ending is a little too neat, it is quite satisfying. An absolutely outstanding read that I highly recommend.