Laura McHugh – The Weight of Blood
Length: 336 pages
Started/Finished: 19 May 2015
Where did it come from? Bought from Amazon.
Why do I have it? Book club pick.
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 25 March 2015.
Small towns can hide big
secrets… ones that Lucy might
wish she didn’t know.
Summary: It seems like a contradiction: in a town the size of Henbane, Missouri, deep in the Ozark mountains, everyone knows everything about everyone else… but there are still dark secrets buried deep. Seventeen-year-old Lucy Dane has lived her entire life with one of these secrets; her mother, who was an outsider to Henbane, disappeared without a trace when Lucy was little more than a baby, and folks still whisper about what might have happened to her. Lucy grew up with her dad and her uncle, and dreams about getting out of Henbane herself, but now another young woman – one of Lucy’s friends – has disappeared, only to turn up gruesomely murdered. Perhaps because of what happened to her mother, Lucy is driven to find out what happened to Cheri, but in doing so, she may be uncovering darker secrets from the past than even she wants to know.
Review: I’m of somewhat mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, I read it in a single day, staying up way past my bedtime to race through to the ending, so it clearly was very engaging. On the other hand, I finished the book not entirely satisfied, thought that it hadn’t really earned its ending, and ultimately didn’t find it particularly memorable.
So the good stuff first: the first half to two-thirds of this book were a knock-out. The setting was very vivid, and incredibly realistic – which is important, since the Henbane and its surroundings play a major role in the story. I could absolutely feel the still claustrophobic summer heat of the Ozarks, and the similar claustrophobia of living in a small town where everybody has known you your entire life, but is harboring dark secrets of their own. McHugh uses that setting to develop tension and suspense very quickly, and the shifting narrative – there’s a second storyline, narrated by a young woman named Lila, but it’s not initially clear who she is or when this story is taking place – keeps the reader even more off balance. By page 100, I was doubting everything and everyone. I thought to myself: “She’s clearly setting up one character to be on the shady and suspicious side, but what if he’s not the bad guy? What if it’s someone Lucy trusts? What if it’s her boyfriend? Why is he being so nice to her? What if it’s her dad? WHAT IF LUCY HERSELF IS THE MURDERER IN SOME KIND OF FUGUE STATE?” Okay, that last one is exaggeration, but I was impressed that McHugh could conjure this bucolic atmosphere where no one can be trusted to be what they seem.
My issues with the book stem largely from the fact that [spoilers ahead!] everyone is pretty much exactly what they seem to be. For a book that is marketed as being in the vein of Tana French or Gillian Flynn, the fact that the person who you originally think is the bad guy ultimately winds up being the bad guy is kind of disappointing. [end spoilers] The ending also got a little “tell-y” rather than “show-y”. I feel like if you have to take a paragraph to explain why a character acted the way they did during the pivotal final confrontation, then you haven’t done a good enough job with your characterization in the first part of the book. Similarly, I get that the title of the book is a metaphor; I really don’t need to have what “the weight of blood” really means explained to me at length in the last 10 pages.
I don’t read a ton of mystery/thrillers, but the ones I do read tend to be pretty stellar. The Weight of Blood had a lot of potential, and while it was an enjoyable enough way to spend the afternoon, it ultimately didn’t quite stack up against some of the better examples of the genre. 4 out of 5 stars.
Recommendation: If mystery/suspense is your genre, this is a compelling if not brilliant or surprising example of the genre.
First Line: That Cheri Stoddard was found at all was the thing that set people on edge, even more so than the condition of her body.
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