When I picked this book up, I thought it was going to be another average thriller, good for a few hours' diversion during the long hot days of summer. I quickly realized I had set the bar way too low. This may be a debut, and it may seem like a retread of familiar territory, with young women going missing and turning up murdered, but The Weight of Blood is unique. I was riveted.
First to draw me in was the setting: richly detailed rural Missouri. The derelict and decaying farms felt as familiar to this Kansas girl as the one I've spent summer holidays on since I was a kid. I enjoy reading about far-flung locales and places I'm never likely to visit in person, but there's something special in seeing an area I know so well brought to full, vibrant life by a skilled observer. Of course, when the story takes a sharp turn into the macabre, it makes the shivers that much more real as well.
McHugh's story jumps around in time and perspective, but it centers around seventeen-year-old Lucy Dane and her family. Lucy's childhood friend Cheri has been missing for a year, assumed by everyone in the small town of Henbane to be a runaway. Then her body turns up in pieces, stuffed into a hollow log near the river. Lucy wants to get to the bottom of her friend's murder, but she has to keep her investigating a secret. Henbane is a small town, and it could be dangerous if the wrong person finds out Lucy is poking around.
There's another mystery that Lucy hopes to unravel in addition to Cheri's death: when Lucy was just a baby, her mother disappeared into a cave and never came out. Everyone was sure she committed suicide, but Lucy still has a lot of questions that no one seems to want to answer. If she can find the truth, maybe she can get some closure about both her mother's disappearance and her friend's death.
Early on in my reading, I wasn't sure how suspenseful the book would be, since McHugh makes it very clear very quickly who the “bad guy” is. Isn't the whole point of a murder mystery to figure out whodunit? Apparently not. There's plenty left that we don't know, and McHugh doles it out in tantalizing parcels. I read so fast I almost got whiplash.
If you're looking for the quintessential so-absorbing-you'll-forget-to-reapply-sunscreen summer read, this book delivers and then some.