I was introduced to Laura McHugh via the recent Thrillerfest 2016 in New York City where Ms. McHugh sat on a panel. It was 8:00a.m. in the morning so don't ask me what it was about!
Anyway, subsequently, as is my custom, I looked online to find out anything I could about her. Unfortunately, since she is fairly new on the scene, there isn't much out there to provide a clue as to what she is all about and her website isn't that much more enlightening.
I did get a short clip off Youtube where she is kindly endorsing another writer and I'm going to post it because it shows what a nice person she is. I felt that when I met her briefly in the bookstore and she autographed her book "The Weight of Blood" for me.
So just to fill you in on the generally well known details about her biography that are on the back page of the book, Laura McHugh, a former librarian and software developer, lives in Columbia, Missouri, is married and has two daughters and a dog. Still, in her free moments she has time to imagine murder and mayhem and get us all worked up.
One thing is for sure, this book of hers is a tension filled, exciting read. I will admit that at a certain point close to the end of the book, I couldn't take it any longer so I jumped to the end and began to read the book backwards. Thus, it is no surprise that the book has won and been nominated for numerous awards.
"The Weight of Blood" by Laura McHugh could just as easily have been called "The Weight of Responsibility" because it really asks the question of what kind of responsibility do we bear towards one another as human beings.
It begins with a very gruesome murder scene involving a dead body--that of a young, local girl named Cheri--stuffed in a tree, mutilated and left for the townspeople to find. While the death of this young girl brings the town and the murdered girl a certain amount of notoriety, it doesn't seem to bring forward much compassion for the dead girl, who soon becomes an object of mocking jokes.
The only person who seems to care is Lucy who was a childhood playmate of the dead girl and has her own backstory. Apparently, Lucy's mother, Lila, disappeared 17 years ago not long after she was born, vanishing into a local cave with a maze of passages and carrying a gun with which she supposedly killed herself. Yet her body was never found.
As Lucy pursues her investigation of what happened to Cheri, she begins to unearth information which leads her to answering the puzzle of her mother's disappearance. However, if she continues to pursue her investigation, she could be putting herself at risk. Thus, when Lucy begins to entertain her various suspicions regarding what happened, she visits the town lawyer to ask his advice as to whether she should go to the police.
He says, "What you've got to consider is who you're telling [your suspicions ] to. The sherif and his boys are related to hundreds of people here in the county, and if you're making accusations against their kin, they might not take it so well. Even if they're not related, who's to say they're not in bed with your suspect, so to speak. Taking bribes. Buying drugs. I'm not saying our law is corrupt, but you never know how it might be compromised. You've got to be sure you can trust whomever you're telling, that it won't come back on you."
By the time Lucy has finished with her investigation and discovered the answers to her questions, it will appear as though everyone in town is implicated. It will seem as though, as in Nathanael Hawthorne's short story "Young Goodman Brown", everyone in town has signed the devil's book, and each in his or her own way is trying to find their way out of his clutches.
The wild and gothic descriptions of the town of Henbane and the surrounding forest, the hints at witchcraft and dark forces combine to deepen and enhance the complexity of this gloomy, mysterious, atmospheric book in which the past and the present intertwine. This arises as the author bounces back and forth between the narrative provided by Lucy's mother Lila many years in the past, and through Lucy's report of her experiences in the present.
At the end of the tale when everything is resolved, we are left with T.S. Eliot's question, "After such knowledge, what forgiveness?" How do you continue to tolerate the studied indifference of society and its collusion in the torture and harm criminals inflict on the innocent.
How do you continue to live with and tolerate people who have made serious, irrevocable mistakes?
Another, even more intriguing question this book also asks is, "Is it possible to love a monster?" Conversely, can a monster truly love another person?" I have doubts about that, but perhaps you will not agree with me.
One thing is for sure, after reading this book, you will never feel quite the same about your family and community ever again. As the attorney, Ray Walker reminds us, "Just because you don't see the devil, doesn't mean he isn't there. He doesn't carry a pitchfork. He hides in plain sight." He could be you. He could be me. He could be anyone.
This book is available on Amazon at the link below:
Laura McHugh also has another book out entitled "Arrowood" which is available at the link below: