Review: The Weight of Blood by Laura McHugh

weight-of-bloodFor 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.” – Publisher Summary

I’m always hesitant when I’m about to read an author’s debut novel. Will it be any good? Will it be worth my time? Will this be an enjoyable experience? Well, friends, in regard to The Weight of Blood by Laura McHugh, the answers to those questions are yes, yes, and yes! McHugh’s debut novel about a young woman searching for the truth behind the recent murder of a friend, as well as the long-past disappearance of her own mother when she was just a babe is a compelling and masterfully written novel. I was pulled into this captivating tale from the beginning and was not released from its hold until the very end.

While working for her Uncle Crete for the summer, Lucy discovers the necklace of her murdered friend Cheri, opening a door to questions that may have best been left unanswered. Along the way, she also searches for information about her absent mother, inquiring amongst friends and family for any scraps of detail she can find. She is joined in her quest by her friends Daniel and Bess, and as they come across clue after clue, Lucy begins to make deductions that fill her with dread. What comes to pass will make you question how well you truly know those around you – your friends, your family, any of those that you love.

This tale is narrated by several different people. Lucy is our main storyteller, but we also hear from Lila, her mother, Lucy’s father and uncle, as well as other friends and acquaintances. I generally find such a numerous compilation of narrators to be too much, but in this case it works well, and the vignettes are skillfully woven together to form a story that captures your attention and keeps your heart beating just a little faster until you reach the ultimately satisfying conclusion. McHugh’s character’s are well-rounded and her descriptive writing is magical and even heartbreaking in places:

He knew Lucy would believe him, that she would somehow understand, because he imagined her privy to that spectral world, the realm of unknowable things that existed beyond an invisible sieve, and maybe if he tried hard enough, he could break apart into tiny pieces and sift through to the other side. …If anything, he would have asked her for help, asked how to get where ghosts go on earth, how to stay and watch and haunt without anyone knowing he was there.”

There are two major themes in this novel, both of which I was appreciative of. One, is that the bonds of family are stronger than anything. Two, is that family is not always dictated by blood relations. This is demonstrated within Lucy’s own immediate family with her father and uncle, and with her elderly neighbor, Birdie. This is a lesson that I wish all would learn and hold on to, as it is a precious and tangible reality.

If you are in search of a new read, you need look no further. The Weight of Blood will enthrall you from the moment you open it until you reach the last page.

The Weight of Blood by Laura McHugh is currently available at a bookseller near you. Buy it, read it, love it.

5 out of 5 stars

Source: Random House – Spiegel & Grau {via NetGalley}

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