Monday, June 23, 2014



Laura McHugh's The Weight of Blood is the story of two strong women in a brutally primitive setting.

McHugh sets her book in the Missouri Ozarks—Henbane, Missouri. (Henbane is a foul-smelling poisonous plant with prickly leaves.) 

The Weight of Blood begins when the people of Henbane find the scarred, dismembered body of a local intellectually-challenged 18-year-old woman.

Lucy Dane sets out to find the murderer.

Lucy, a high school friend of the victim, also wants to know what happened to her mother Lila.

Lila came to Henbane to work, ended up marrying Carl Dane and having one child Lucy. Finally Lila apparently committed suicide by walking to into the Devil's Cave and shooting herself. 

The Weight of Blood moves back and forth in time. McHugh alternates the two women's stories. 

The book's title refers to family ties, Ozark loyalty to family even in the face of murder and corruption.

In that sort of patriarchal society, solving a murder (or several murders) sometimes reveals terrible things about your family. 

The Weight of Blood had wonderful descriptions of the Ozarks--

“Once we hit blacktop, the road—or its makers—had been humbled. Instead of blasting through the landscape to make its own way, it followed the rolling ridge, traveling along its spine, the world falling away from its flanks.”

I grew up at the edge of the Missouri Ozarks. My wife and I lived for ten years in Camdenton, Missouri, not far from Lebanon where the event which sparked the core idea for this fictional story took place.

Once, we lived a couple of years in Nebraska, on the edge of that desert called the Sand Hills. I never felt at home until we drove back into the Ozark Hills.

But this is not the Ozarks of Silver Dollar City near Branson nor the Lake of the Ozarks near Lebanon or Camdenton. It is the hill country, the kind of place where, even today, militia members shotgun the windows of houses they think are built too close to their Ozark enclaves.

In that respect, this book is true and clear. It shows a Missouri Ozarks tourists seldom see. The Weight of Blood is not The Shepherd of the Hills. (Another book I liked, by the way.)

McHugh fills her book with courageous people. Not just Lucy and Lila are survivors (of a sort). Several other women lived with love and courage. They built strong lives in hard situations. And The Weight of Blood had good men too, men who helped save and protect their women.

I recommend this book. It is a hard book to read, but it is true to its subject.


PS Laura McHugh lives in Columbia, Missouri, where I live. I have not met her and do not know her. I first read about this book in the Kansas City Star.

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