The marketing description for The Weight of Blood promises “a gripping, suspenseful novel” for fans of Daniel Woodrell and Gillian Flynn. Winter’s Bone may be one of my favorite contemporary novels; the makers of the film adaptation pulled heavily from Woodrell’s dialogue in the book, which may explain why the movie was so successful. A then-unknown Jennifer Lawrence had the perfect vehicle for her first trip down Oscars’ red carpet. Gillian Flynn could make a psychopath blush with her first-person accounts of a dysfunctional marriage turned murder mystery. Her bestselling novel, Gone Girl, remains one of the books that everyone likes to discuss, and its David Fincher-directed movie treatment comes out in October.
Thus, we arrive at The Weight of Blood with huge expectations for a debut novel. As in Winter’s Bone, the protagonist is a teenage girl living in the Ozark Mountains who has been forced to take on responsibility well beyond her seventeen years. Lucy Dane still struggles with the fact that her mother disappeared shortly after her birth and is often home alone because her father works out-of-town construction jobs.
The small community of Henbane (the town shares its name with a poisonous member of the nightshade family) keeps a protective eye on Lucy. They circle even closer when the dismembered body of Lucy’s childhood friend is discovered in a fallen tree on the riverbank. As McHugh writes, missing persons are not uncommon in the Ozarks, but found and mutilated girls are cause for conjecture and concern. Feeling guilty that she didn’t try harder to find Cheri when she was missing, Lucy decides to launch her own informal investigation into her friend’s horrible death.
Other narrators take turns revealing what they know about Cheri’s murder and the earlier disappearance of Lucy’s mother. The weight of blood refers to bloodshed; the novel is necessarily violent and raw. But the title also alludes to blood relations, and the burden Lucy bears of being born a Dane. Do you pursue the truth when you know there’s a 95% chance the answers to your questions will hurt you and destroy your family?
The Weight of Blood is a compulsively readable mystery, worthy of its comparisons to Woodrell and Flynn. To learn more about Laura McHugh and The Weight of Blood, visit the author’s website at weightofblood.com. You can also follow @LauraSMcHugh on Twitter.