Cover of The Weight of Blood. Image of a tree in a river

About the Book

Title: The Weight of Blood
Published: 2014

Cover Story: The Hangin’ Tree
Drinking Buddy:
Mighty Mighty Pleasin’, Your Pappy’s Corn Squeezins
Testosterone Estrogen Level:
The Only Thing Daddy Left Him and That Was a Gun
Talky Talk:
Family Tradition
Bonus Factors:
The Ozarks, Female Slavery
Bromance Status:
Never Thought of Every Leavin’ Butcher Holler

Cover Story: The Hangin’ Tree

I would be tempted to award the cover designer the lazy award for a picture of a tree. But after reading chapter one, you realize this is the tree where they found poor little Cheri’s corpse. At least most of it.

The Deal:

Lucy has grown up in the tiny little town of Henbane in the Missouri Ozarks. Like most small town girls, she’s looking forward to getting out. But that’s easier said than done, leaving behind her loving father, Carl, and her uncle Crete, as well as her friends and the various women in the community who watch over her. Too many people end up staying in Henbane out of pure inertia.

But not Lucy’s mother. When Lucy was a baby, her mother Lila took Carl’s gun and vanished into a local cave. No one ever found the body.

Some of the locals said she was a witch. Others say she was crazy. Some have darker theories, but they’re not talking.

And now, tragedy has struck the town. A local girl named Cheri has been found dismembered and stuffed into a tree by the river.

Cheri was not a popular girl. Lucy was her only friend.

Lucy, along with handsome older guy Daniel, attempts to unravel the murder. And possibly learn what happened to Lila, all those years ago.

Drinking Buddy: Mighty Mighty Pleasin’, Your Pappy’s Corn Squeezins

Two pints of beer cheersing

Lucy was an okay character, a girl who cared about Cheri when she was alive, and wants to find out who killed her (something Cheri’s mother doesn’t even seem concerned about). But Lucy sure makes some baffling decisions along the way.

For instance, when she’s cleaning out an old trailer that her uncle is about to scrap, she finds a necklace that absolutely belonged to Cheri (along with some disturbing stains). So she hides the necklace, cleans up the stains, and conducts her research in secret. She breaks into her uncle’s files to find out who rented the trailer, rather than just asking him.

And she moons over handsome Daniel every other page, but seems oblivious to the fact that he’s hot for her.

Actually, the character I really liked was Lila, her mother. Eighteen-year-old Lila narrates some of the chapters, and she’s hard not to like. A middle class girl, she’s orphaned after her parents die in an accident. With no family, no money, and no education, she ages out of foster care with nowhere to go.

When she’s offered a two-year job doing light farm work (room and board provided), she jumps at the chance. This’ll give her the opportunity to save some money for school and decide what she wants out of life.

Such nice people. What could go wrong?

Testosterone Estrogen Level: The Only Thing Daddy Left Him and That Was a Gun

This is not a YA book. This is hard core. And if ever a book needed to be rated on the estrogen scale, it was this one.

As a guy, I don’t always remember that half the population has to be extra wary about where they go and who they’re alone with. How the nicest guy in the world can suddenly show his true colors. How you could suddenly find yourself thinking ‘He wants me to do something I don’t want to…and I’m not strong enough to stop him.’

Cheri’s murder, sadly, is not the most unpleasant thing in this book.

Talky Talk: Family Tradition

McHugh pulls off the difficult task of writing two parallel stories, separated by a couple of decades. The reader learns all of Lila’s secrets early on, while Lucy is still stumbling in the dark.

Why do all of Lila’s old friends refuse to talk about her? Why is Uncle Crete so secretive about his finances? Was Daniel’s mother also accused of witchcraft? Didn’t Lucy’s father used to be a gravedigger?

Oh, Lucy. Get out of Henbane. Run, don’t walk. The past is about to catch up with you in a big way.

Bonus Factor: The Ozarks

Black and white photo of an abandoned house

Lila spent most of her life in Iowa, so moving to Southern Missouri was a bit of a shock. Henbane is an isolated community, to say the least. An older resident remembers how her uncle used to brag about having once seen a real live Negro in Little Rock. When the local guys start to notice Lila’s exotic beauty, women accuse her of being a witch. Literally. Lila inadvertently offends a neighbor by knocking on her door (That’s what salesmen do! A polite neighbor yells from the property edge and waits for permission to enter the yard).

But I lived in the Ozarks in the late 90s. True, maybe people are a tad distrustful of outsiders, but once they get to know you or your great-grandkids, they’ll treat you like one of the family. Henbane might not be a bad place to settle down. Aside from the, well…

Bonus Factor: Female Slavery

Artistic rendering of slaves cutting sugarcane

So Lila comes to town with the promise of work and a new life. And at first things are fine. Farm work on the weekdays, a little waitressing on the side, some time to get her head together. Living in a repurposed garage isn’t glamorous, but she’s an orphan and is used to sparse conditions.

And then the other shoe drops. She’s a gorgeous young woman with no family, no connections, no money, and living in a building with a door that locks from the outside. And by the time she works out why her employer requested a photo of her, she’s trapped.

She wasn’t the first one. There was that other girl…didn’t speak English. She wouldn’t cooperate. She’s gone.

This book is a stark reminder that in many places, women–girls–are a commodity to be sold and traded. And I’m not talking about remote Africa, either.

Bromance Factor: Never Thought of Ever Leavin’ Butcher Holler…

You never forget that town where you grew up. The old town square, the moonlight on the corn, the ol’ barn…some nights I can almost hear her screaming…

FTC Full Disclosure. I received no money or home brew for writing this book. Remember: totally not a YA book.

Brian wrote his first YA novel when he was down and out in Mexico. He now lives in Missouri with his wonderful wife and daughter. He divides his time between writing and working as a school librarian. Brian still misses the preachy YA books of the eighties.