The Weight of Blood

The Weight of Blood

by Laura McHugh


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The Weight of Blood by Laura McHugh

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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“[An] expertly crafted thriller.”Entertainment Weekly, “The Must List”
“Haunting . . . [a] riveting debut.”Los Angeles Times
“Laura McHugh’s atmospheric debut . . . conjures a menacingly beautiful Ozark setting and a nest of poisonous family secrets reminiscent of Daniel Woodrell’s Winter’s Bone.”—Vogue
“Fantastic . . . a mile-a-minute thriller.”The Dallas Morning News
“Gripping . . . 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. . . . Strongly recommended for readers who enjoy thrillers by authors such as Laura Lippman and Tana French.”—Library Journal (starred review)
“The sinister tone builds relentlessly.”—The Plain Dealer
“Rich in character and atmosphere . . . This is one you won’t want to miss.”—Karin Slaughter
“Daniel Woodrell better watch his back. . . . Weight of Blood is a tense, taut novel and a truly remarkable debut. . . . A suspenseful thrill ride that satisfies in all the right ways.”BookPage

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780812985337
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 01/06/2015
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 258,909
Product dimensions: 5.17(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.67(d)

About the Author

Laura McHugh lives in Columbia, Missouri, with her husband and children. The Weight of Blood is her first novel.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

Excerpted from "The Weight of Blood"
by .
Copyright © 2015 Laura McHugh.
Excerpted by permission of Random House Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Reading Group Guide

A Conversation with Laura McHugh

Originally published on Interview by Trisha Ping.

You’ll never think of small-town life the same way again after reading Laura McHugh’s chilling debut, The Weight of Blood. Part Twin Peaks, part Tana French, the novel opens just after the body of eighteen-year-old Cheri has been found stuffed into a tree trunk. Lucy Dane may have been the troubled Cheri’s only friend, and after turning up some disturbing evidence she becomes determined to track down Cheri’s killer—especially since her own mother’s disappearance some fifteen years earlier has still never been solved. As Lucy’s quest proceeds, she begins to unearth the town’s darkest secrets, some of which involve her own family.

We asked McHugh, who lives in Missouri with her family, a few questions about her new book.

Trisha Ping:
As a former software developer, you took an unconventional path to becoming a writer. Is it something you’ve always wanted to do?

Laura McHugh:
I wanted to be a writer all along, but I had no mental road map of how to make that happen. I was a first-generation college student—my dad was a shoe repairman, my mom worked at Waffle House—and I had never heard of an MFA. We viewed higher education in a very practical way, as a ticket out of poverty. I studied creative writing as an undergrad, but for grad school I chose more technical degrees, ones that I thought would result in steady employment. I was a software developer for ten years, and then suddenly I lost my job. That’s when I completely reevaluated my life. I’d been writing short stories, had published a couple, and dreamed of writing a novel. I didn’t want to regret that I never tried. I feel incredibly lucky that things worked out the way they did.

How did you come to write this particular story?

My family moved to the Ozarks when I was a kid. The community was close-knit and wary of outsiders, and the surrounding area was home to groups that wanted to isolate themselves from the rest of the world. We lived down the road from the East Wind commune (a woman would sometimes jog topless past our school bus stop), and not far from the compound of a militia group called The Covenant, the Sword, and the Arm of the Lord. I was haunted by the place long after we left, and I wanted to capture what it was like to grow up in such an insular place, and also to show it from an outsider’s viewpoint.

In the midst of writing the novel, I came across a news article from the small rural town where I’d attended high school. A local teen had been victimized in a shocking crime, and the people involved had kept it secret for years. That crime was the inspiration for Cheri’s story.

Small towns are usually associated with words like “peaceful,” “idyllic,” or “friendly.” Henbane is none of the above. Why were you drawn to depicting the darker side of rural life?

For one thing, it’s in my nature—show me a seemingly idyllic town, and I’ll instantly wonder what’s hidden in the shadows. I grew up in a series of small rural towns, and they’re grittier than people might imagine. I’m also fascinated by the way crime plays out in these tight-knit communities where everyone knows (or is related to) everyone else. No one wants to speak out against their neighbor or their kin, or maybe they’d rather not involve the law. A good example is the murder of Ken McElroy in tiny Skidmore, Missouri. He was a bully and had gotten away with some serious crimes. The townspeople were fed up and decided to take action. McElroy was murdered in broad daylight in the middle of town, in front of nearly fifty witnesses, and not a single person would rat out the killers. (Also, no one called an ambulance.)

On a similar note, thrillers are often very black and white—but your book definitely deals in shades of gray. Does that present challenges when writing suspense?

I didn’t find it problematic while writing this book. Maybe it helped that I didn’t set out to write a thriller. I wanted to tell Lucy’s story, and I wanted the reader to keep turning the pages, and the story naturally became more suspenseful as it developed. I enjoy books with those murky shades of gray, but I’m not biased one way or the other—I like all sorts of thrillers, and I’ll read anything that grabs my attention and won’t let go.

Without giving too much away, Lucy makes some dark discoveries about the adults in her life—people who care deeply for her might be capable of bad things. The novel is also a coming-of-age story, though, and these revelations mirror one of the rites of passage of growing up: learning that adults are people, too.

You’re right, that’s an important part of growing up. I clearly remember having that revelation as a kid. It’s scary to realize that the grownups in charge are not necessarily making good decisions. For Lucy, as for most people, it’s difficult to process and accept the idea that a loved one might be capable of grave wrongdoing.

You tell this story from several different perspectives. Which character was your favorite to write? Which was the hardest?

Jamie Petree, the drug dealer who is obsessed with Lila, was my favorite. I’m not sure what this says about me, but I have always loved to write creepy characters—they come naturally to me. I liked being able to show Jamie from two different perspectives. We know how Lucy views him, and we also get to go inside his head and get a sense of who he really is.

Lucy’s mother, Lila, was the hardest. She started out a bit more innocent and naïve, but that wasn’t working. I had to let go and let her be a bit more troubled and troublesome.

Although the violence is not at all sensationalized, bad things happen to girls and women in this book. I assume that’s something you thought about, as the mother of two young daughters. Do you think there are lines that fiction writers should not cross in this area?

Truth is always stranger and more disturbing than fiction, and the things that happen to Cheri in this book don’t compare to what happened to the real-life victim who inspired her character. I did not want to portray violence against women in a way that was titillating or sensational, and I was careful about how I approached it in the book. That said, I wouldn’t put any limitations on fiction writers. Real life is so much more dangerous than a book that you can close and put away.

What are you working on next?

I am finishing up my second novel, which will also be published by Spiegel & Grau. A young woman witnessed the kidnapping of her sisters years ago, and now a terrible discovery forces her to question everything about her past, including her own memory. The novel is set in a decaying Iowa river town—I do love small towns and their secrets.

1. The Weight of Blood alternates narrators, giving us many of the characters’ perspectives, but mostly going back and forth between Lila and Lucy. What did you think of this dual narrative? Did it confuse you? Could the story have been told in one voice?

2. How do you interpret the relationship between Crete and Carl? Carl consistently turns a blind eye toward Crete’s questionable behavior. Do you think this is a weakness of Carl’s character, or do you believe that Carl is rightly loyal to his brother? If you were Carl, how would you handle your relationship with Crete? Would you have covered up Cheri’s murder?

3. The Weight of Blood ends with Lucy and Daniel together on a blanket, lost in their own world. Lucy tells us, “I let myself get lost in the moment, looking neither forward nor back, seeking nothing absent but embracing what was right in front of me.” How does this ending resonate with the rest of the story and the struggles Lucy has had to face?

4. The novel is set deep in the Ozark Mountains of Missouri, in a sparse and wild, dreary and deserted landscape. Describing the valley where her family first settled, Lucy tells us, “What was left of the homestead now was a cluster of tin-roofed out-buildings in various states of decomposition, a collapsed barn, a root cellar with its crumbled steps leading into the earth, and the stone foundation and chimneys of the main house. Walnut trees had sprouted in the spaces between the buildings [and there was] a single-wide trailer that looked out of place among the ruins but every bit as forsaken.” Discuss the role the setting plays in the novel.

5. Discuss the book’s title, The Weight of Blood. Ultimately, what does the novel have to say about “blood,” and the meaning of family? Did your interpretation of the title evolve from the beginning to the end of the novel? If so, how? 

6. Throughout the novel, Lucy carries around the necklace she finds, a broken blue butterfly on a chain, until she leaves it with the flowers in the cave. Discuss the significance of the necklace. 

7. Throughout the novel, Lucy carries around the necklace she finds, a broken blue butterfly on a chain, until she leaves it with the flowers in the cave. Discuss the significance of the necklace. 

8. Discuss the friendships between Lila and Gabby and Lucy and Bess. How were they similar across the generations, and how were they different?

9. The novel leaves the question of who is really Lucy’s father unanswered. Who do you think it is? Do you think it matters? Why or why not?

10. What did you think about Ransome’s role in Crete’s operation? She did whatever she could to help the girls, without actually trying to stop Crete. Do you think her actions were cowardly? Do you think she had a choice?

Customer Reviews

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The Weight of Blood: A Novel 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 70 reviews.
JillOrr1 More than 1 year ago
From the beginning of the book, you are invested in 17 year-old Lucy Dane’s story. She is tormented by the brutal murder of her childhood best friend, whose body is found on page one. As she digs deeper into her friend’s death, she discovers haunting similarities to her own mother’s unsolved disappearance 16 years earlier. The more she investigates, the more secrets come to light - until she is left with the undeniable conclusion that the truth of what happened to the two lost girls lies very close to home.  Setting and atmosphere play a big part in this book. The descriptions of life in the small town of Henbane, MO are dead-on and filled with authentic details that create such a vivid sense of setting. The author perfectly captures the deep mistrust and superstitious nature of the town’s residents – all of whom are fully realized characters – and contribute to or impede (depending on the person) Lucy’s quest to find out what happened to her friend and her mother. The best thing about this book is the consistently high level of tension throughout the whole thing! You always have a feeling that “all is not as it seems.” And not only are you waiting to find out who the “bad guy” is – but once you know – you’re waiting to find out just how bad he’s gonna get.  I don’t want to give too much away, but this book is a true page-turner. Beautifully written, highly suspenseful, and deeply atmospheric, The Weight of Blood is not to be missed. 
Caroles_Random_Life More than 1 year ago
Wonderful book by debut author! I received an advance reader edition of this book from Random House Publishing Group and Net Galley for the purpose of providing an honest review. Solid 4 Star Book! When I saw the description of this book, I was more than intrigued. Since I live in Missouri, a book focused on two mysteries a generation apart set in the Ozarks sounded pretty entertaining. While I do not live in the Ozarks, I do live close enough that the location sparked a bit of interest as well as the plot. As it turns out the tiny town of Henbane that the book is set in is somewhere that I have never been and most likely will never go but interesting anyway. As I actually started reading the book, I was pulled in right away. The two mysteries are told from different points of view and are connected not only by the small town of Henbane, but the characters, and events surrounding each mystery. Lucy has grown up without her mother, Lila, who went missing when she was very young. Lucy's friend Cheri also goes missing for about a year before her body is found. Lucy starts trying to find out what happened to her friend and she is the primary voice for events happening in the present. We also spend time with Lila, Lucy's mother, a generation earlier where we learn about the events that lead to her disappearance and possibly Cheri's murder. The author does use other points of view in the book but Lucy and Lila are the primary story tellers. Many of the characters are integral parts of both plots. Everything ties together by the end of the book with everything being interconnected. This was one of those books that starts strong, pulls you in and really does not let go. I found myself having a very difficult time putting this book down and could not wait to get back to it as soon as I could. The subject matter was difficult and I think the author realistically represented many people's inclination small town or otherwise to look the other way and not get involved. I would definitely recommend this book! It is really hard to believe that this book was written by a debut author since it was so well written. I predict many wonderful works will be written by Laura McHugh in the future and I plan to try to read as many of them as I can.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Read in two days - could not put it down
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read this because a high school friend posted it on her Facebook page. Her sister-in-law is the author. I wasn't disappointed. The story captured my attention from the very start, and kept me enthralled. Excellent book, and I hope there is more to come.
Twink More than 1 year ago
Laura McHugh is garnering lots of attention with her debut novel, The Weight of Blood. (And it's all good!) Seventeen year old Lucy Dane was born in the Ozark mountain town of Henbane, but has never been fully accepted by the community. Although her father is a native son, her mother Lila was an outsider, with rumours and suspicions constantly being whispered about her. Lucy doesn't remember her - she disappeared when she was a toddler. Other people have disappeared from Henbane as well - including a friend of Lucy. Lucy wants answers - about her mother and her friend. And so she begins nosing about.....perhaps not the wisest choice in a town full of secrets - and secret keepers. As a reader, we know much more. In part one, McHugh cuts the narrative between Lucy's present day search for answers and Lila's arrival and life in Henbane. Although a generation apart, Lila and Lucy's stories seem to mirror each other. Other voices are introduced in the next two parts, bring a different perspective and shedding further light on both the past and present. McHugh does a great job in setting the tone of the novel. Details and descriptions of everyday life, the locale, the customs and the mood of the town and its inhabitants are richly drawn. I had vivid pictures of Lucy and Lila sitting on the same front porch. Of the two main characters, I found myself most drawn to Lila, perhaps because I wanted things to be better for her. Lucy makes some rash choices that had me thinking 'oh no!' more than once. But, I did want her to find answers. Both for herself and me. I had a fairly clear idea of where things were going to end, but the journey there was a very good read. Tension filled and a page turner. A few of the supporting cast of characters were a wee bit cliched. But, the reader has no trouble discerning who is 'good' and who is 'bad'. Or do they? For the lines are blurred in The Weight of Blood. Where does loyalty lie? "You grow up feeling the weight of blood, of family. There's no forsaking kin." I thought McHugh's choice of the name Henbane for the town was somewhat revealing.. Henbane is 'a coarse and poisonous plant of the nightshade family, with sticky hairy leaves and an unpleasant smell.' The case of Lucy's missing friend is based on a horrifying true event. I reviewed a book last month that fell into a newly (to me) coined genre - grit lit. The Weight of Blood has a distinctly Southern Gothic feel to it, but I would also tag it as grit lit. Dark, dangerous and grittily atmospheric. The Weight of Blood is an excellent debut and has marked McHugh as an author I'll be watching. Her second novel Arrowood is in the works.
BrandieC More than 1 year ago
Laura McHugh's The Weight of Blood was amazing and heart-wrenching - so much so that it is hard to believe that this is her debut novel. Told in alternating chapters by 17-year-old Lucy and her mother Lila, who vanished when Lucy was a baby, The Weight of Blood is both a mystery and an exploration of the bonds of family, particularly in a tight-knit Ozark community. What do you do when you both fear and love a close relative? How can you remain loyal to both friend and family, when protecting one means hurting the other? McHugh addresses such weighty questions in lyrical prose which kept me engaged even after it was apparent what had happened to Lila and Lucy's friend Cheri. I highly recommend The Weight of Blood to those who enjoy reading about family secrets. I received a free copy of The Weight of Blood from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Loved that the author used multiple narratprs to tell this story. Great setting/mood. Only Lucy's relationship with Daniel seemed superfluous, and those last few paragraphs a bit sappy but overall good storytelling
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Well written, suspenseful, and having grown up in a small town, very believeable!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book had me hooked from the beginning. I loved the creepy plot and how each chapter was told by the different characters past and present. The prose was wonderful and I even highlighted a particulary beautiful passage in one of Birdie's chapters about aging. A book that can be enjoyed at anytime of year as long as you have the time to read because you won't want to put it down. Looking forward to another one from this author!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Couldn't put it down. Conflicted family relationships, suspense, good descriptions of people and places.
Sean_From_OHIO More than 1 year ago
Author, Laura McHugh delivers an amazing look into small-town secrets, family mysteries, and the lengths ones go to protect their loved ones. The change of narrators by chapter isn't new but its done well here. I almost wish the narration stayed with only the two main female characters. While many of the characters are not good people, the are good characters and that leads to a lot of gray areas. I sped through this excited to read the next chapter. Overall, a very good book by a very talented writer.
Reads-by-Night More than 1 year ago
This book kept Reads-by-Night up into the wee hours for two nights straight. I won't retell the story, but the biggest mystery is how the book keeps you turning the pages, reading one more chapter, when you really do know what happened. You just have to know how it plays out. Amazing first novel, it is a bit like Gone Girl and Lila were merged into one book. In tone, if not in story.
eheinlen More than 1 year ago
This book was riveting and kept my attention to the very last word! Excellent! I highly recommend it!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I wish I could give this 3.5 stars, because it really isn't a 3 star book. This book is dubbed as something you would like if you like Gillian Flynn (which I do), but I don't think I would go that far. I did enjoy this book, but I feel like the end was very anti-climatic. Part of me thinks that it could be because I have read too many books like this, but the other side of me says that there was plenty of opportunity for more twists and turns. I would say that overall, I enjoyed this book, just not as much as other "page turners".
danielle_14565 More than 1 year ago
The synopsis of this book attracted me to it. I felt as though the story would be interesting, I also felt as though it would be deeper than the other mysteries that seem to be flooding the market today. The book is told from many different perspectives, but in reality it is Lucy's story. She is attempting to solve the murder of her friend, by doing so she delves into the towns past uncovering secrets as she digs. As I read this book I was able to, as I put it, plow through it. Sometimes I am able to read mysteries as a fast pace. I think that is partly due to the fact that books tend to be predictable. With this book you can't move fast. You read each word and digest it, absorbing the scenery, the conversations, and the clues. The descriptions are so real you feel as though tou are there with the characters. As soon as you pick up the book it's like you're Alice falling through the hole into the characters' world. I was attempting to find a word to describe it when I read Slaughter's blurb. The word she uses is "rich" and I think that is the absolutely best word for it. I do have two complaints that I must voice. I know how could I, right? I felt like the author had some good secrets going throughout the book, but she would then blurt out the answer to those secrets. I like to stew on things. I want to wonder if I am on the right track to solving the mystery. I would start to wonder how these things would play out when all of a sudden within a few paragraphs the author gave me the answer. She would give secrets/clues, then solve them, then explain them. This bothered me, bot enough to stop reading and enjoying though. I still need to gather all the clues to lead me to the finale. The next complaint I have is the ending. Why is it so difficult to find an ending that wows? I want that moment where you are just stunned, that you never saw it coming... I have yet to find that. I won't give anything away, but I felt cheated in a way. Don't get me wrong it wasn't bad, but it wasn't stunning or spectacular like I felt it was going to be. While reading I had developed these ideas about how the book was going to end, building me excitement, causing me to flip pages as fast as I could read them, only to reach the end and sigh in slight disappointment. Not the thrilling, unexpected ending I was hoping for. Maybe because the rest of the book was so great I expected the ending to be shocking. This book isn't just about solving a mystery. It's about friendships, learning about your past. Discovering who your loved ones truly are. All these issues play a prominent role throughout the book. Also secrets are examined. How they can destroy people, how the guilt they cause can eat at a person's conscience for their entire lives. I would definitely say this is a must read. Even though the ending disappointed me I don't regret the story I was able to read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Been looking for a read like this since Gone Girl! Great story...
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Not for the weakhearted. Excellent read
Ronrose More than 1 year ago
A young teenage girl, Lucy Dane, living in the heart of the Ozarks, tries to unravel the mystery of the disappearance of her mother years ago. Many in the small community of Henbane believe her mother, Lila, an outsider, had powers which she used to cast a spell over the menfolk of the town. Lila's disappearance was welcomed by some and regretted by only a few. Lucy's inquiries into her mother's past is not welcomed by anyone in town. Especially when it starts to tie into the more recent disappearance and death of another young girl from Henbane. Lucy's investigation of the town's dark secrets will strain the bonds of friends and family testing the weight of blood. The story has a free flowing style that is at times captivating. I felt a different ending might have been found that would have empowered the major character to a greater extent. This book provided for review by Random House.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
One of the best books I have read! I don't read much, but I hadn't been sleeping well, reading usually makes me sleepy. I picked up this book, and I just couldn't put it down! I would highly recommend this book!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Mystery/Thriller/Suspense are my go-to genres. This debut novel by Laura McHugh was an interesting read. While some parts were easy to guess what would come next, there were parts that gave a surprising twist. The author captures the setting very well. I almost felt like I was back in the Midwest while reading this, especially during the storm chapter towards the end. Woodsy areas are always a great setting for a mystery novel. In the beginning of the novel, all of the back and forth between characters and time periods were confusing, but I was eventually able to catch on. Lucy is longing for answers about the disappearance of her mother. She finally figures out what happened and I would have liked to read more about what her mother went through on that fateful day, rather than one of the other characters giving their account (I don’t want to give away who). Overall, I give this a 4/5 stars. McHugh did a great job on her first novel and I look forward to seeing what she comes up with next.
NiemczykLJ More than 1 year ago
Great book! I forgot that this was recommended to me because I read all 3 books by Gillian Flynn. I read this so fast and was sad to learn this is the only book out by this author. I will definitely be reading her next book.
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