The Weight of Blood by Laura McHugh

Isolated in the Ozarks…

🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

the weight of bloodWhen the body of Lucy’s childhood friend Cheri is found dismembered amidst the roots of a tree by the river, the initial hue and cry quickly blows over, leaving Lucy as the only one who cares. This is not the first tragedy in Lucy’s 17-year-old life though – when she was a baby her mother Lila walked into the caves known as Old Scratch carrying a gun…and never came back out. As Lucy starts asking questions to discover what happened to Cheri, she finds her suspicions growing that the two events might be in some way connected…

The story is told in two separate timelines – Lila’s and Lucy’s. The writing and characterisation are both of good quality and the picture McHugh paints of this small town in the Ozarks, isolated and full of superstition, works well in allowing her to build up an atmosphere of tension. She makes us feel the summer heat and the encroaching natural world, and shows us the underlying poverty of many of the inhabitants – not just economic poverty, but poverty of hope and ambition. The story is well-plotted and dark, and although the reader gets to know the basics of what happened fairly early on including who the bad guys are, McHugh still manages to maintain some suspense all the way through. For most of the book the two timelines work well, but in the last third or so, we suddenly start jumping from viewpoint to viewpoint, with very short chapters where we see things through the eyes of characters who in many cases really haven’t been developed. I found I was regularly having to search back to find out who they were. In one case I had to go back 38 chapters to find the one line where a character had previously been mentioned.

Laura McHugh
Laura McHugh

I understand from other reviews that the book falls into a genre new to me – Southern Gothic. I assume therefore that the sheer misery of life in this small town is consistent with the ‘tropes’ of that genre. And certainly it’s very well done. But given that all the men are vicious predators and all the women are downtrodden pathetic victims, that the place is full of snakes, insects and never-ending unavoidable humid heat, that superstition abounds and people still believe in witches, that the place seems to have been abandoned by all kinds of state authority and dead young women merit no more than a few days notoriety – well, all-in-all I found myself thinking that if I were forced to live there then walking into a cave with a gun and never coming out might be the best solution. The only two people with any hope in them are Lucy and her love-interest Daniel, and given the grim and gritty storyline it seemed very odd to have what seemed like a YA love story tossed in to the mix.

Overall, I thought this was a very promising debut novel – not without its weaknesses, but well-written and in the main quite well-plotted. My personal preference would be for McHugh to pull out of a genre that seems to be somewhat rule-bound and unrealistic, and to clarify whether she is writing for an adult or a YA audience. But she has certainly shown enough talent in this book to ensure that I’ll be looking out for her next. Recommended.

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Random House. It is out now in the US but for unknown reasons is not being published in the UK until July.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

30 thoughts on “The Weight of Blood by Laura McHugh

  1. FictionFan – Southern Gothic can be very compelling. I’m glad that you found your introduction to it to be a solid one. And the Ozark setting – just perfect for an engaging crime novel. As you say, there’s lots of history, superstition and more.

  2. A new genre! What an interest. Seems like these are popping up regularly now. Had to laugh about your preference to go into the cave… I bet her mom, though, didn’t kill herself!

    It does seem like a rather horrid place. (I when you can feel the physical heat!) I think they need a hero there. Like John Wayne or Hector.

  3. It sounds interesting for the atmospheric qualities, alone. Carson McCullers and Flannery O’Connor are considered part of this genre. Have you read O’Connor’s short story, A Good Man is Hard to Find?

    • She certainly was good at building atmosphere – it’ll be interesting to see how she develops as she gains experience. No, ashamed to say I’ve never heard of either of these and hadn’t even heard of the genre until I started looking at other reviews of this one. But the short story is available online so I’ve bookmarked it to read later…

  4. I didn’t know you were reading this one… another that I considered and then decided that the TBR was quite big enough… I love reading blogs to find all these new genres that I’ve never heard of before! Who invented Southern Gothic? Is there Northern Gothic too? I had to laugh at your comment about entering the cave… thanks for another brilliant review.

    • Thanks! Yes, I enjoyed it overall but can see why the reviews would be mixed. I wouldn’t be twisting anybody’s arm over this one, but she showed more than enough talent for me to be keen to see how she develops…

      • What’s next? I have just read an amazing book – What Came Before – Anna George – out in June -my review- when it happens is probably a bit gushy and all over the place it just affected me so much…I love a book that “affects” me in one way or the other…

        • I’m clearing up the last of my NetGalley crime stuff – just two or three to go – and then I’m going to concentrate on fiction for a while and have a rest from crime, though I think I might re-read some old favourites. Need to do something to inspire me again after all the mediocre or bad crime books I’ve read recently…

          I’ll look out for your review of that one, though – it doesn’t even seem to be listed on Amazon UK.

    • Hmm…in general I find fiction doesn’t go in quite as much for gratuitous violence and foul language as the current trend in crime seems to. Even when it is hard-hitting it’s usually done for a reason rather than just for – I don’t know what for actually – entertainment?

      Thanks for the rec – I’ll take a look at that one… 😀

  5. I haven’t heard of that genre. One of my fav. books is ‘Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” which would sit in that genre. Good review BTW 🙂

  6. Suddenly my plague of deadly spores sounds like a blessing in disguise. I’m with you, the cave and the gun for me. I have come across Southern Gothic before but it isn’t a genre that appeals to me. Not one to try and get in before the final deadline, I think 🙂

    • HahaHA! No, I wouldn’t want this to be the last book I ever read either! And I don’t see me searching for more Southern Gothic books – in fact, ‘genres’ in general are almost enough to put me off a book before I open it…

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