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The Weight of Blood by Laura McHugh

The Weight of Blood

by Laura McHugh

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64610522,272 (3.82)50
Recently added byprivate library, AmandaGStevens, covertprestige, INorris, Erewhon77, Sharn
  1. 20
    Winter's Bone by Daniel Woodrell (BookshelfMonstrosity)
    BookshelfMonstrosity: Questions of family loyalty trouble resourceful teen girls in these stark and menacing novels of hardscrabble life in the Ozark hills. Both fast-paced literary thrillers combine a strong sense of place with haunting characters and clear-eyed depictions of violence.… (more)

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Seventeen-year-old Lucy Dane is the only friend Cheri Stoddard has. Cheri is a year older in age but about a decade younger, mentally. When she disappears, not even her mother cares to find her. THE WEIGHT OF BLOOD begins a year after said disappearance, when Cheri's dismembered body is discovered in a tree. Lucy strives to solve Cheri's murder and, as she gathers clues, realizes she may also be close to solving the disappearance of her own mother, Lila, who's been gone since Lucy was two years old. But it's no easy thing to solve a crime (or two?) in Henbane, Missouri. The Ozark townsfolk live by the law of silence, and even Lucy, who's grown up here, might not be able to break it. If she does, the consequences might be greater than she's imagined.

As a reader who (unlike the author) is not personally familiar with the Ozark setting, I was most impressed with this book's sense of place and its integral part in the unveiling of the mysteries. In fact, the town of Henbane may be the most roundly developed character in this book, while sometimes the characters feel more like setting details. Ms. McHugh writes lovely description, evoking mood and personality in the caves and swimming holes, the woods and dirt roads and old farmhouses.

The pacing is also well done. I read this book in a few days (fast, for me) and was glued to it by curiosity. Who in this cast of characters knows what really happened to Lila? How is Lucy going to learn the truth? I appreciate that the author didn't try to turn every event into a surprise. Yes, Crete is bad news (not a spoiler--it's quite obvious quite early, and after all, the author admits in an interview with Karin Slaughter that she would cast as Crete an actor who terrifies her). Since the author doesn't hide the villain's identity, we experience trepidation for Lucy, who knows him only as the uncle who's been good to her all her life.

Given this transparency in the storytelling, it's odd that so many reviewers (including myself) didn't realize until about fifty pages in that Lila is Lucy's mother. The book's first part is told from their alternating first-person perspectives, and at first I expected them to meet. Then I did the math of secondary characters' ages and realized there was a time gap here--and only then did I realize, oh, Lila is the disappeared mother. Not many pages after I put this together, Lucy first refers to her as "my mother, Lila." Apparently this was supposed to be a surprising twist, but the information delay serves no narrative purpose.

I found McHugh's style as a whole to be enjoyable--a balance of word-smithing that's neither under- nor over-written. Some of the character details are real and touching (Cheri's chipped butterfly necklace, Ransome's baby quilt). However, the first-person voices of Lucy and Lila are essentially the same voice. In Parts 2 and 3, the secondary characters' third-person chapters are told with very little variation in said voice. And the voice engages in a lot of telling-not-showing. A lot. Point-of-view killers abound: I saw, I realized, I felt, I thought, I knew, I wondered if ..., It occurred to me that ... A little more subtlety and a little less explanatory introspection would go a long way here.

Also, the characterization of Lucy isn't very deep. Her penchant for library books might be the only individualizing quirk she has. Mostly, she's a searching-for-self seventeen-year-old with enough determination to solve a murder case. But in the final third of the book, her reactions to her situation become problematic. There's a bit of contriving as McHugh isolates Lucy using a severe storm and a conveniently unreachable adult character to whom Lucy wants to present her evidence. Still, even with these obstacles, there are safer, more sensible options than the ones Lucy chooses, and I don't understand the motivation for her choice. Is she still hoping Crete is the uncle she knows and not the monster she suspects? Fair enough. But does that emotion make it onto the page? No. Ultimately, this might be my problem with Lucy: a lot of thought, but almost no feeling. Case in point being the climactic scene, in which she has no emotional response whatsoever to things that should be terrifying, devastating, even enraging. I'm not saying I want a basket case of a protagonist, but a blank one isn't any more realistic or sympathetic (barring extenuating circumstances like severe trauma, but Lucy is not a traumatized character).

And speaking of that climactic scene. After letting her readers in on so many of the secrets well before Lucy, Ms. McHugh carved out a tough job for herself. Almost any climax was bound to feel underwhelming, when I knew for so long what probably happened ... and then I wasn't proved wrong. If the book had ended with some bizarre twist, however, I probably would have scoffed. The ending McHugh does give us is mostly credible, other than Lucy's reaction.

THE WEIGHT OF BLOOD succeeds on many levels: setting, mood, pacing, and carefully crafted prose. It loses stars for an under-developed protagonist and indistinguishable character voices. But three stars (from me) means I don't regret the hours I gave this book, and the author is likely worth keeping track of. There's great promise in this debut of greater books to come. ( )
  AmandaGStevens | Mar 2, 2019 |
I liked the way this story unfolded. The ending was okay but there were a few unanswered questions for me which always bothers me. I almost gave this 4 stars but didn't because I don't feel like I cared for the characters as much as I should have either. Still a good mystery. ( )
  Sharn | Feb 11, 2019 |
The Weight of Blood by Laura McHugh is a dark mystery involving the disappearance of at least two women from a small area in rural Missouri in the Ozark Mountains. The book follows two parallel story lines as Lucy, a teenager investigates the gruesome murder of a friend and hunts for clues into the disappearance of her mother some fifteen years ago. She is aided in her inquiries by a young man, Daniel, but she soon realizes that their investigation is leading into the heart of her own family. The past story line, is her mother’s Lila’s story, of how she came to the small town of Henbane and how she ran afoul of an evil man but made the mistake of falling in love with a member of his family.

The author evokes the rugged setting of this rural community and slowly reveals that there is something very dark lurking in this small town. I had a slight problem believing Lila would stay in this place after she escapes captivity and learns what her future was meant to be. But overall this was a very good debut novel and I would certainly read more from this author. ( )
  DeltaQueen50 | Feb 5, 2019 |
This is the story of family and about how it not only binds people together but about how it can force them apart. Lila tells of how she came from Iowa to be in the Ozark Mountains of Missouri. Her story is being told as a sort of flashback since she has been missing since her daughter Lucy who is now a teenager was a baby. Lucy’s story then becomes the focus of the book. When Lucy’s friend is missing she tries to find out what has happened to her. In the process Lucy also begins to unravel the mystery of her mother’s disappearance.

The Ozark Mountain setting is perfect for this tale of families, blood ties, secrets, and missing persons. The characters are well written as the stereotypical close-knit people and neighbors that might live in a small town in the mountains where outsiders may have a difficult time being accepted as part of the community. And it leaves one to ponder to what extreme some people would go to protect and please “family”.
( )
  Rdglady | Nov 20, 2018 |
A disturbing and sad book about family and secrets. Lucy's mother disappeared when Lucy was young, and now, as a teenager, she's touched by this sort of mystery again when her friend disappears. While trying to find out what happened to her friend, Lucy discovers a terrible secret about her mother, her friends, and her family.

When I say disturbing, I mean it. Lucy finds out some terrible things, the kinds of things that can cause you to question who you are and why you're here. The book was fascinating, well-written, and hard to put down, but very, very sad.

(Provided by publisher) ( )
  tldegray | Sep 21, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 108 (next | show all)
With her riveting debut, "The Weight of Blood," Laura McHugh makes a strong bid at cementing a new tradition of regional crime fiction while keeping tourism low in the Ozarks........McHugh has crafted a sharp, haunting tale of blood in the Ozarks, as substantial as it is pleasurable to read.

McHugh cleverly tells the story in several first-person voices, mostly that of Lucy and her mother. The reader will know early on who the primary villain is, and may wonder at Lucy’s naiveté in not figuring it out sooner. But as in real life but oh-so-rarely in fiction, the villain here may not be 100 percent villainous, nor are the good guys necessarily 100 percent blame-free.

The plot will keep readers of The Weight of Blood reading far past their bedtimes, but it’s McHugh’s shadings and subtleties of character that’ll have them looking at their own families with new eyes and looking for her next book with eager ones.
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That Cheri Stoddard was found at all was the thing that set people on edge, even more so than the condition of her body.
You grow up feeling the weight of blood, of family. There’s no forsaking kin.
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 scared 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.
Spring was short-lived. The hills were ecstatic with blooms, an embarrassing wealth of trees and wildflowers: dogwoods in cream and pink, clouds of bright lavender redbuds, carpets of phlox and toothwort and buttercups. Then the leaves filled out the canopy, draping the woods in shadow. The vines and underbrush greened and resumed their constant creeping, and the heat blossomed into a living thing, its unwanted hands upon us at all times.
When Cheri turned up in the tree, I knew uncertainty wasn't the worst part. It was a luxury, a gift. The worst part was knowing for sure that your loved one was dead, and I was grateful then that my mother's body had never been found. The mystery eats away at you, but it leaves a thin rind of hope.
I snapped on the bedside lamp, sending shadows scurrying up the lavender walls, and turned on the fan in the window next to my bed.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0812995201, Hardcover)

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.
Praise for The Weight of Blood
“A fantastic novel, rich in character and atmosphere . . . This is one you won’t want to miss.”—Karin Slaughter, author of Unseen
“Laura McHugh’s vivid and enthralling The Weight of Blood centers on a mother and daughter in a seemingly benign yet deeply horrifying small town. It kept me on the edge of my seat from the first page to the last.”—Vanessa Diffenbaugh, author of The Language of Flowers
The Weight of Blood pulled me in and wouldn’t let go. What starts as Lucy’s coming-of-age story becomes a chilling tale about the price of secrets. As the menace deepens, so does the tension. Laura McHugh has written a terrific novel.”—Meg Gardiner, Edgar Award–winning author of The Shadow Tracer
“Once I picked up Laura McHugh’s The Weight of Blood, I couldn’t put it down. I kept turning pages long into the night, bewitched by the enchanting Ozark landscape and the haunting murder mystery at its heart. The Weight of Blood is the kind of novel that leaves the reader breathless and wanting more.”—Amy Greene, author of Bloodroot
“In this riveting debut, Laura McHugh weaves together the stories of two women, separated by a generation, who each reveal pieces of a story that gains momentum and power as its shape becomes clear. This novel will keep you up all night.”—Christina Baker Kline, author of Orphan Train
“An elegant time bomb of a novel, a coming-of age story that holds you captive from the first sentence and doesn’t let go of you after the last.”—Tracy Guzeman, author of The Gravity of Birds

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:03:31 -0400)

"The Dane family's roots tangle deep in the Ozark Mountain town of Henbane, but that doesn't keep sixteen-year-old Lucy Dane from being treated like an outsider. Folks still whisper about her mother, a bewitching young stranger who inspired local myths when she vanished years ago. When one of Lucy's few friends, slow-minded Cheri, is found murdered, Lucy feels haunted by the two lost girls--the mother she never knew and the friend she couldn't protect. Everything changes when Lucy stumbles across Cheri's necklace in an abandoned trailer and finds herself drawn into a search for answers. What Lucy discovers makes it impossible to ignore the suspicion cast on her own kin. More alarming, she suspects Cheri's death could be linked to her mother's disappearance, and the connection between the two puts Lucy at risk of losing everything. In a place where the bonds of blood weigh heavy, Lucy must decide where her allegiances lie"--… (more)

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