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The Weight of Blood

by Laura McHugh

A gripping debut psychological crime novel about family lies and dark secrets in an isolated community as a series of women go missing. 

People still whisper about Lucy Dane’s mother who vanished years ago from the town of Henbane, deep in the Ozark mountains.

When one of Lucy’s friends is found murdered, Lucy feels haunted by the two lost women: by the mother she never knew, and the friend she couldn’t protect.

But her search for answers, in a place where secrets are easily concealed, leads her to a chilling discovery.

And with this revelation, she must grapple with the meaning of family, the secrets we keep, and the lengths we will go to protect the ones we love.

In the town of Henbane, a fictional setting in Missouri’s Ozark Mountains, the townsfolk are a tight breed, protective of their own community to the point of being lawless. After years of being fostered, after her mom and stepdad were killed in a car crash, Lila is used to being a stranger in a new town. She is in Henbane to work for her room and a basic wage. Her boss is Crete Dane, a man attracted to his latest employee. When Lila spurns his advances he uses their unfair contract to hold back her pay – and that’s only the start of it, for Crete is a dangerous man. Complicating matters Lila becomes involves with his brother Carl, ten years his junior and ten times nicer. 


As the reader is gripped by Lila’s struggle we are also following Lucy’s, a parallel storyline just as gripping and, masterfully, each narrative sheds light on the other.  


Lucy is Lila Dane’s daughter, and we follow her path years into the future, after Lila has left town (when Lucy was aged just two), her fate unknown. Lucy is now seventeen and mourning the death of her friend Cheri whose dismembered body has just turned up in a tree, on display for all to see. Cheri went missing a year ago. Lucy was her only friend, one of the few people bothered that she was even missing. Cheri was troubled, burdened by an unloving mother and a slow mental age. Lucy’s boyfriend Daniel helps her dig into the events surrounding Cheri’s mysterious death: even if they are merely armed with a necklace found in a trailer on Crete’s – Lucy’s uncle’s – land. As Lucy begins to ask questions about Cheri and her own mother’s disappearance she soon learns that trust should be questioned and never taken for granted.


Lila and Lucy are not the only character’s points of views we hear from in this suspenseful character driven book. Crete’s old farmhand (in a nursing home during Lucy’s story) Ransome is harbouring her own secrets as she is just one of the characters bound by loyalty and misguided alliances.


Rape, murders and mysteries are covered up in this atmospheric coming of age tale of family secrets and sacrifices. A powerful debut novel with a strong sense of place. Check it out.



About Laura McHugh:

Laura McHugh grew up in small towns in Iowa and Southern Missouri, the youngest in a family of eight children. She holds a master's degree in library science and has worked as a librarian and a software developer. Her short fiction has appeared in Confrontatioon and Big Muddy: A Journal of the Mississippi Valley.

McHugh lives in Columbia, Missouri, with her husband, two daughters and a dog.

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