The tale opens with a body, or rather body parts, of a young woman found in a tree. The victim, Cheri Stoddard, friend of protagonist Lucy Dane, had been missing for a year. Where Cheri spent her last few months and how she ended up dead becomes an obsession for Lucy because the circumstances of Cheri’s disappearance echo how Lucy's own mother Lila vanished more than a decade ago. Orphaned Lila, a relative stranger to the small Ozark community of Henbane Missouri, comes to town to work as a farm worker for Crete Dane. Crete has paid for her journey from Iowa and provides room and board on his farm where she is supervised by Ransome Crowley, a weathered woman who maintains a cool distance from the lovely Lila. Meanwhile Lila quickly falls for Crete’s younger brother Carl, but Crete has other plans for lovely Lila. Even though Carl and Lila marry and produce Lucy, Crete maintains a looming presence in her life. One afternoon when Lucy is still a toddler, Lila leaves her child with her friend gabby to run an errand and is never seen again.
Lucy Dane believes there is a connection to Cheri’s murder and her mother’s disappearance, and in her free time from working in her uncle Crete’s cafe and general store, she initiates help from Daniel, her secret crush who is now her co-worker, to help find out what happened to her murdered friend and missing mother. Henbane is a small community, so someone has to know. The narrative weaves between Lucy, Lila, Ransome and other characters' viewpoints, and the reader gradually learns the whole story through their eyes.
The taut, elegant writing and well paced narrative kept me engaged all the way through. The Weight of Blood reinforces the notion that every community and family, no matter how small and seemingly benign, contains dark secrets.
This is Laura McHugh’s first novel, and I hope she is working on a second one.