Random House: 3/11/2014
Hardcover, 320 pages
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.
The Weight of Blood by Laura McHugh is a riveting, spellbinding, very highly recommended novel of suspense.
Despite the fact that seventeen-year-old Lucy Dane has lived her whole life in small Missouri Ozarks town of Henbane with her father, Carl, and near her uncle, Crete, she has spent most of her life wondering what happened to her mother and why she disappeared. No one in Henbane has forgotten that her mother, Lila, was a foreigner, "that she had come from someplace else, even if that place was only Iowa. Some folks didn’t think it possible that the cornfields and snowdrifts of the North had produced a creature as mysterious as my mother, so they had crafted origin myths involving Gypsies and wolves." All Lucy really knows is that eighteen years ago Lila met Carl when she came to Henbane to work for Crete Dane. When Lucy was a year old her mother "walked into the inky limestone labyrinth of Old Scratch Cavern with my father’s derringer pistol and never returned."
Lucy is now wondering why the body of her mentally challenged friend, Cherie, who disappeared a year ago, is suddenly found murdered and dismembered. Before the murder of Cheri, Lila's disappearance had been the biggest mystery in town.
"The whole town jittered with nervous speculation, wondering where she’d been for that missing year and why she’d turned up now. It was common knowledge that in the hills, with infinite hiding places, bodies disappeared. They were fed to hogs or buried in the woods or dropped into abandoned wells. They were not dismembered and set out on display. It just wasn’t how things were done. It was that lack of adherence to custom that seemed to frighten people the most. Why would someone risk getting caught to show us what he’d done to Cheri when it would’ve been so easy to keep her body hidden? The only reasonable explanation was that an outsider was responsible, and outsiders bred fear in a way no homegrown criminal could."
Armed only with a burning desire to discover the truth about what happened to Cheri, as well as her ongoing search for answers about her mother, Lucy unknowingly begins to uncover a tangled web of deceit, corruption, and evil that puts her own life in jeopardy.
The novel is divided into three parts. In the first part the narrative alternates between Lucy's current life and that of her mother, Lila. After introducing the cast of characters and the role many of them played in the past and present, chapters in parts II and III of The Weight of Blood are told through the point of view of a wide variety of characters. Since we are exposed to multiple viewpoints and background information, a picture of a dark underbelly of the town emerges. Secrets have been kept for years, allowing evil to flourish. Perhaps there is a reason the town is named Hensbane, another name for nightshade, or the devil’s weed.
This is a remarkably well written debut novel for McHugh and I was engrossed in it from beginning to end. While there are plenty of descriptions that help enhance the mental pictures of the area, the action continues on at a good pace while the tension is allowed to build as more information is revealed. It becomes clear that Lucy may not be safe and that everything may not be exactly what she thinks. I'll be looking for future novels by McHugh.
Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Random House for review purposes.