Friday, April 25, 2014

The Weight of Blood

by Laura McHugh
Spiegel & Gray     2014
300 p.      Fiction

Sometimes family can be your salvation. Sometimes family can be your undoing. McHugh explores both in the coming-of-age murder mystery, The Weight of Blood. Set in small-town Missouri, the story focuses on a teenager named Lucy who is reeling from the discovery of the chopped-up body of her friend, Cheri who had been missing for a year. Cheri's body was found stuffed in a tree across from Lucy's family store, run by her uncle Crete. Lucy's own mother, Lila, had disappeared from the community when Lucy was a baby, and as Lucy sets out to figure out what happened to Cheri, she also hopes that she may come to some conclusions about what happened to her mother as well.

It is the secrets that gives the story life—the weight of blood—as it were. Lucy has been an innocent bystander to secrets that have haunted her family since before she was born. Even her much loved father, Carl, has secrets he is keeping from Lucy. He is also burdened with secrets about his brother Crete whose money-making ventures are just plain evil and whose secrets threaten the family's stability, indeed its very existence.

The Ozark community is also a character in the novel. In some ways, it is like small town America. Everybody knows everybody, and everybody shares the community's secrets at the same time that they gossip about them. Strangers are worthy of suspicion, and weird community members are sheltered. Lucy's mother was never accepted by the community, so Lucy tends to be viewed with suspicion, even though her father's family have always been prominent community members. The story is told from several points of view, chief among them Lucy and Lila. Because of the way Lila tells her story, we know more about Lila than Lucy does, although there are some startling similarities between their lives. Lucy keeps a journal with one entry being "Things I Know About My Mother."

 Lucy has the foolhardy bravery of a teenager, but she misses some of the clues that are right before her eyes, including those about her dear father and more importantly her evil uncle Crete. The reader pretty  much knows what is going to happen, but we are compelled to keep reading because of the skillfully written narration and tight characterization. One reviewer says, "McHugh is an artful, efficient writer who tells her story in vicious blows." 

It all ends a little too quickly, and things get wrapped up a little too neatly—which is often the case in murder mysteries. Even if we know how it's going to end, the ride is good enough to keep going.
While I was reading this, a 7-year-old cold case murder in a nearby small town was being solved—a crime not that dissimilar to the murders in The Weight of Blood. And the man finally arrested for the murder of the 11-year-old girl in Constantine, Michigan was a man very close to the family. Apparently, this kind of murder case doesn't just happen in the Ozarks.

Read The Weight of Blood. It's gritty but it's worth it.
Laura McHugh's website:

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