Sinister Missouri: The Weight of Blood, Laura McHugh

Spiegel & Grau, 2014

ISBN 0812995201 (ISBN13: 9780812995206)


Part of the Mysteries from Every State Reading Challenge

“If the wolf wants in, he’ll find a way.”

Cover weight ofLaura McHugh’s The Weight of Blood takes place in Henbane, a fictional town in the Ozarks. I was genuinely surprised at how much I liked this book, and it was a good choice for the Mysteries from Every State Reading Challenge, as it gave a good description of the people and culture of the Ozarks.

Henbane is a foreboding town, where the churches are “outnumbered by monuments to the devil.” Having nothing to attract outsiders, residents of Henbane have lived in town for generations and have little tolerance for outsiders.

Even though Lucy was born in Henbane and her father’s family is one of the oldest and most respected families in the county, she is still considered somewhat of an outsider because her mother was not born in town.

The summer before graduating high school, Lucy’s friend Cheri turns up missing and months later her body parts are found stuffed in the hollow of a tree. Deeply disturbed by her friend’s death and its apparent relationship to her mother’s disappearance several years back, Lucy decides to investigate what happened to both women.

Even though I had part of it figured out from early on, the plot is more complicated and deals with more interesting issues than I initially gave it credit for.

The story alternates between a teenage Lucy and her mother Lila when Lila first arrived in Henbane as an orphan looking for a job.

The descriptions of the brooding landscape and close-knit community give readers a good sense of every-day life in a small town in the Ozark Mountains, where family and community are more important than anything else.

McHugh makes sure to highlight the rich musical heritage of the area, describing Birdie and her husband “making music” on their porch or with their friends, with Birdie’s husband playing the dulcimer, a family relic later passed on to their son. It appears, however, that, in the book, at least, the younger generations are not as interested as their parents in keeping the Ozarks’ musical tradition alive. Lucy, for one, does not show very much interest in the music of the area, and neither do her friends.

The book also challenges stereotypes in a refreshing way through several of the characters, many of which had surprisingly redeeming qualities or rise from adversity.

One writing technique I enjoyed was how the author used the onset of a rainstorm to mark time in the novel, allowing the reader to understand how several things were happening in several different places at the same time by using the storm as a reference. This technique helped build suspense and communicated the urgency of the situation very effectively and in a way that appears effortless and did not seem forced.

This book could have easily gone the way of a trashy suspense novel, but, surprisingly and unexpectedly, it takes a higher road, with sophisticated language, tone, plot and themes.

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