The Weight of Blood: Book summary and reviews of The Weight of Blood by Laura McHugh

The Weight of Blood

By Laura McHugh

The Weight of Blood
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  • Published in USA  Mar 2014,
    320 pages.

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Book Summary

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.

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Both Lila and Cheri were treated poorly by the people of Henbane. What was it about them that made them easy targets and did superstition play a role?
I think both women were vulnerable in a small town where the overall mentality was not very respectful of women. Lila had a stroke of luck that Carl fell in love with her and came looking for her at a time that enabled him and Ransome to "rescue" ... - melindaw

Did anything about the book's plot surprise you?
I was very surprised when I found out who arranged Cheri's body in the way it was found! - rebeccak

Did you find the multiple-voice narrative effective?
Yes, I liked it. That said, I think having the names of the two women so similar, Lila and Lucy, and the fact that their voices were so similar was a bit confusing at times. I had to think about whose story I was reading at the beginning of each ... - lizc

Do you think Lucy will be able to walk away from her ghosts? Do you think it's possible to truly put away the past?
I do not feel Lucy will walk away from her ghosts, I think there will always be times that she will think of her Mother. I also feel that as long as she lives in Henbane, there will times where she will be reminded of and think of Cheri. She seems ... - melindaw

How did Carl change after Lila disappeared?
Carl and Crete were brothers, but totally different in every way. Crete was evil, while Carl was basically a good man. Carl truly loved Lila and could not get past her disappearance. He also loved Lucy, although his grief kept him from being a real ... - cherylk

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Starred Review. Debut novelist McHugh comes out swinging with this gripping tale set in the Ozarks of Missouri... Her prose will not only keep readers turning the pages but also paints a real and believable portrait of the connections, alliances, and sacrifices that underpin rural, small-town life in Henbane... Strongly recommended for readers who enjoy thrillers by authors such as Laura Lippman and Tana French."- Library Journal

"In this clever, multilayered debut, McHugh deftly explores the past of an Ozark Mountain family... with plenty to hide and the ruthlessness to keep their secrets hidden... This is an outstanding first novel, replete with suspense, crisp dialogue, and vivid Ozarks color and atmosphere." - Publishers Weekly

"[A] suspenseful novel, with a barn burner of a plot... McHugh shows herself to be a compelling writer intimately familiar with rural poverty and small-town weirdness."- Booklist

"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

The information about The Weight of Blood shown above was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's online-magazine that keeps our members abreast of notable and high-profile books publishing in the coming weeks. In most cases, the reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author of this book and feel that the reviews shown do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, please send us a message with the mainstream media reviews that you would like to see added.

Reader Reviews

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Rated 3 of 5 of 5 by susan
strong plot and voice(s)
Riveted and suspenseful until I got through 2/3 of the book. while the book is primarily about Lucy and a parallel, haunting history of her mother Lila, the relationship unfolds in the context of the mystery surrounding the death of her friend Cheri. The storytelling has not yet convinced me that Lucy and Cheri were friends, hopefully this will be resolved by the book's end. Too many abruptly introduced red herrings as to the whodunit of Cheri's murderer.

Rated 3 of 5 of 5 by SMD
The Weight of Blood
I was excited to receive an advanced copy of the book because the blurbs were so exciting and encouraging however I was ultimately disappointed. It starts off strong and captivating - loved the alternating points of view told independently by mother and daughter 17 years apart - by laying the groundwork for the story, then builds the suspense as it picks up steam by dropping hints of the darkness yet to come. The best and strongest part of the book is the middle as the tension increases and your imagination starts thinking 'could it be this?' Then 'oh no, it couldn't be that......could it?'. Then, after hundreds of pages of leisurely telling the alternating perspectives, comes the entirely rushed, jarringly brief and unsatisfying conclusion. For me, a book is only great (and recommended) if the conclusion rings true. Unfortunately that isn't the case here.

Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Nikki
Debut author? No way!
This page-turning story set in the Ozarks reads like a seasoned author wrote it. I can't wait until discussion on this one opens up. Lots to talk about! Great read!

Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by BeckyH
THE WEIGHT OF BLOOD by Laura McHugh
THE WEIGHT OF BLOOD concerns what happens when family loyalty blinds one member to the oddities, questions and inconsistencies of another member; when love for a brother leads one to cover up misdeeds in the name of family and to continue for years never admitting the half truths that abound.
This thriller by Laura McHugh starts out mildly unsettling and ratchets up as the pages turn. Carl and Clete are brothers who both fall for the same girl, Lila, an orphan who comes to the Ozarks for work and finds love. After marrying Carl, Lila has a daughter Lucy, who is loved by both her father and her uncle. In short order a town girl disappears and her body is found dismembered and stuffed in a tree. Lila, considered an outsider and perhaps a witch, disappears soon after. The story continues 16 years later with Lila’s daughter and increasing tension between the brothers and in the town.
McHugh does a good job with tension and atmosphere, characterization and ordinariness as the story deepens into horror. Some readers may be disturbed by the subtext of white slavery. Book groups will discuss family secrets, loyalty, the pull of neighborliness, mental handicaps, privacy and small town morals topics for discussion.
4 of 5 stars

Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Mel
A Study of the Ozarks
Laura McHugh paints a realistic view of the Ozarks, from the perspective of a young woman, of some privilege who has grown up in a particularly unwelcoming, scary town, but who is protected from its cruelties due to her family's stance. The young woman loves the beauty of the Ozarks. She loves its woods, caves, rivers, and many of its people. Ultimately, however she can no longer hide from its darkest side. After she discovers town secrets that are very close to her home and heart, she has to make choices - choices of loyalty and to whom does her loyalty lay with - and choices of where she will live out her future.

Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by John Williamson
There Are No Secrets in Small Towns
The Weight of Blood is a fitting title for this book that becomes more apparent as the story evolves. The book is written with each chapter sharing the viewpoint and situations from the perspective of a different character in the book. The author rises to the challenge of this narrative approach, fully develops each character, and successfully limits the number of characters so the reader doesn’t get confused.

It starts off with Lucy trying to solve the mystery of a friend’s disappearance while in the background attempting to come to terms with the disappearance of her own mother, Lila. The book then shifts back in time and is told from Lila, Lucy’s mother that has led a very difficult life before she arrived in the little town of Henbane, Missouri. The second half of the book is told through the eyes of the other major characters and each shares another piece of the puzzle.

The Weight of Blood is an excellent debut novel, with a well-crafted plot, realistic dialogue, strong character development and a conclusion that is not easily foreseen by the reader.

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Author Information

Laura McHugh Author Biography

Laura McHugh grew up in small towns in Iowa and the Ozark mountains of southern Missouri. She now lives in Columbia, Missouri, with her husband, two young daughters and one enormous dog. Her background includes computer science, software development and library science; The Weight of Blood is her first novel.

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