THE LAND ACROSS, by Gene Wolfe

the-land-across-by-gene-wolfe

My review of Gene Wolfe’s The Land Across is now up at Skiffy & Fanty:

“…Recently released in trade paperback format by Tor Books, Wolfe’s 2013 novel, The Land Across, is typical Wolfe: a young, possibly unreliable narrator, evocative descriptions, shifting plots that play with expectations, sophisticated incorporation of the political and religious, and beneath it all a perpetual sense of foreboding…”

Read the rest of the review here.

Her, by Harriet Lane

Her, by Harriet Lane
Publisher: Little, Brown & Company
ISBN: 031636987X
272 pages, hardcover
Expected Publication: 6th January 2015
Source: Goodreads’ First-reads

Alternating each chapter between the points of view of two women, Harriet Lane’s Her is a  subtle, slow-building thriller that exudes a sense of foreboding and imminent disaster. When crises does actually drift into the plot it is easy to gloss over amid the now familiar unease of the women’s narratives.
Nina is a fairly successful painter who radiates a refined elegance and control. With an older husband and aloof teenaged daughter, she seems often left alone with her own thoughts and memories. As Her opens, Nina spots Emma, a woman from Nina’s past who for reasons unknown to the reader induces a rush of nervous and fearful excitement in Nina. Increasingly obsessed with Emma, Nina manipulates events to insert herself into Emma’s life. As a young, overwhelmed mother impressed with Nina’s status and grace, Emma appreciates Nina’s presence and seeming friendship.
The stalking and twisted maneuvers of Nina to gain the companionship and trust of Emma (who apparently doesn’t recognize Nina from her past as Nina does Emma) makes Her‘s slow crawl forward in plot deliciously unsettling. Only upon the novel’s close is the past relationship between the two women made clear, and all questions in the reader’s mind are addressed.
With a longer work, the alternating and at times overlapping points of view of events from chapter to chapter could grow tedious, but Her is kept short, simple, and sweet. The personalities of each woman are made clear throughout, and only key events are kept from the reader to maintain a sense of mystery and intrigue in the story, and to retain that uncertainty of just what will go wrong.
Her is thus a sort of psychological thriller, focusing on the twisted mind of Nina and the relative ignorance and inherent trustfulness of Emma. While it doesn’t contain much in the way of action, the pace of the novel stays quick – even with replaying scenes from Nina’s view and then Emma’s, the novel does not linger on unimportant matters but proceeds directly to the next important event in time of the two women’s’ relationship. It is a quick, easy read (as long as you pay attention to the nuances of emotion) – and Lane uses moments of levity or irony break the creepy tension or play with the reader’s expectation that now is when something bad is going to happen.
Readers that want lots of action, twists, and rapid payoff will probably be frustrated by this novel, but those that appreciate a quiet little understated horror, Her is masterful.

Disclaimer: I received a free electronic reading copy of this from Little, Brown & Company via Goodreads’ First-reads giveaway program in exchange for an honest review.

Shovel Ready, by Adam Sternbergh

Shovel Ready, by Adam Sternbergh
Publisher: Crown Publishing
ISBN: 0385348991
256 pages, hardcover
Published 14th January 2014
Source: Blogging for Books
(Crown Publishing Group)

I had wanted to review this novel closer to its initial release, but my reading queue was just too full at the time and the opportunity unfortunately had passed. I was happy then to learn about Crown Publishing Group’s Blogging for Books program and request this for my inaugural selection. The plot description seemed like something that would be right up my alley, a genre mashup between the gritty, hard-boiled, noir thrillers you might expect to find in the Hard Case Crime lineup and a dystopian, post-apocalyptic sci-fi setting. Count me in for the fun.

And I wasn’t disappointed. I cracked this open not long after it arrived and finished it within a couple of sittings over the course of the day. If I were able I probably would have just torn through it in one, and would have had just as much fun savoring it. During the opening section of the novel I wondered why it had the sci-fi setting to it, the story could have just as easily existed in a present reality. Thankfully my worry dissipated as the novel continued and the science fiction element became integrated seamlessly into the plot beyond the post apocalyptic setting.

Shovel Ready is set in a near future New York City that has been decimated by a terrorist dirty bomb detonated in Time Square. This event, in conjunction with smaller coordinated bombings and follow-ups has a greater psychological and economic effect on the city in aftermath than the actual physical destruction it causes. New York becomes fragmented between a wealthy upper-class able to hire security and care in high-rise apartments, permitting their retreat into virtual reality utopias, and a lower class seeking to survive in the lawless rubble below. If they choose to stay.

As in Delaney’s Dhalgren, the New York City of Sternbergh’s Shovel Ready is an isolated zone of chaotic culture, an apocalyptic blip within an America that otherwise may be completely ‘normal’. The people who have chosen to stay in New York have nothing else, are committed to its condition and either the opportunities or curses it provides. The novel thus fits into a fascinating area of apocalyptic literature where the disaster and subsequent conditions are relatively localized.

Within this environment is the protagonist and narrator of the novel, Spademan, a former city garbage collector who lost his wife in the initial dirty bomb-related attacks, and who now survives as being a dispassionate hitman operating under a strict professional code. Despite wanting to keep a professional distance from his clients and targets, Spademan finds that his latest client is a powerfully famous religious leader (cultish one may say) involved with providing the hopeless ‘heaven on Earth’ through virtual reality tech. More problematic, the target given to Spademan turns out to be his client’s own rebellious daughter, and she may not fit into Spademan’s code.

Spademan is a fantastic character, worthy to fill the pages of any pulp or ‘serious/literary’ crime novel. Sternbergh does a fabulous job introducing the reader to the flawed and vulnerable character, establishing the rules of his hitman profession, and slowly divulging the details of his past that have led him to his current employment.

Mixed into the great hard-boiled protagonist creation Sternbergh includes many noir hallmarks, from shady thugs, double-crosses, big bad crime leader villains, and a femme fatale. Spademan’s initial target, who becomes an asset he desires to protect fits the femme fatale mold generally well. On a surface level she seems painted the weak female needing a strong male figure (a rather awful misogyny of course on its own), but in reality she is in greater control, and more capable, than one may think, and from the start Spademan learns that she can pack a deadly bite.

In some way these noir aspects of Shovel Ready make it familiar and expected. This could have led it being a decent, slightly above-average hard crime story. The setting and the use of the virtual reality technology as an integral element to the plot make this rise above to something even better. While becoming relevant to the plot, the technology is also used as commentary for class division in this post-apocalyptic New York. While this ‘have vs have not’ kind of message is nothing new or handled rather superficially here, it is refreshing to see it in the kind of entertaining quick read here that could easily still be an enjoyable novel without its inclusion.

By putting the sci-fi aspect in with a dash of blatant social commentary, Sternbergh manages to give a little weight to Shovel Ready without stifling the pure entertaining joys of the thriller. This is a mashup that will certainly appeal to almost all crime/hitman-type story lovers and as a mashup to certain speculative fiction fans. Though I probably shouldn’t encourage more series out there, Spademan and his gritty environment could easily expand into further works, and I’d pick up one of them without hesitation. On the other hand, this makes me curious to see how far Sternbergh’s talents extend.

Four and a Half Stars out of Five

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this from Crown Publishing via their Blogging for Books program in exchange for an honest review.

More info from the publisher

Author bio from the publisher

The Word Exchange, by Alena Graedon

The Word Exchange, by Alena Graedon
Publisher: Doubleday
ASIN: B00FUZQY7I
384 pages, Kindle Edition
Published April 2014
Source: NetGalley

Literary novels can get away with lacking an exciting plot when they are filled with profound insights or inspiring artistic language that like poetry conveys complex emotions and relationships. Genre novels can get away with the opposite, being completely plot-driven, large-scale, ‘simple’ entertainment, even if formulaic. I become most impressed by the authors, or specific works, that are able to pull off the best of both worlds. That kind of mashup is a risky endeavor though, for sometimes it can come out where neither side really comes out well in the product, and that unfortunately is the case overall with “The Word Exchange”.

The premise of the novel is wonderful, and lovers of books, languages, and the power of words will appreciate at the very least the foundations of the novel. The early chapters are dominated more by the literary side of the equation. While the writing is good throughout the novel, it is probably best here Although it verges on gimmicky with the advanced vocabulary-laden prose, that doesn’t feel like a major fault until it gives way to being replaced by fake words for the remainder of the novel. The trick gets old fast, making the advanced real words sometimes overlap in one’s mind as an elemental tool with the fake ones to come. Graedon writes well, but only rarely does it seem profound or elegant. Rather than words being carefully chosen to fit the flow and of the sentence, they are instead chosen to fit the style, or theme moreso, of the novel’s plot. An early chapter from the point of view of secondary character Bart is the most vocabulary-heavy, but it is also this chapter out of the whole novel that contains the deepest musings on the theme of language, delving into philosophy and other intellectually stimulating backgrounds. But for the literary richness of character relationships, nothing is quite achieved.

Instead, the novel seems to delve further and further into being genre, a combination of a mystery (what happened to Ana’s father) and a near-future techno-thriller. OK, so can the novel at least just then be simply enjoyed as genre entertainment? Sadly, the novel doesn’t quite get this right either, though again it does have some things in its favor. The technology of the ‘Memes’ work wonderfully and believably within the novel, a horror that is easily imaginable. The increasing reliance and emotional dependence on mobile connected technology is highly disturbing, much as it was to Ellul who I happen to be reading now too. But, rather than focusing just on these Memes and the technologies direct effects, Graedon creates this incomprehensible scenario where the technology is somehow exerting effects as a biological virus. How exactly this occurs is explained eventually in the novel, yet even then did not make particular logical, biological sense. Handled in other science fiction outlets, here this idea of a language or word virus, simply doesn’t work as believable science fiction.

That could be okay, I am fine with suspended disbelief even in SF. Yet even still, the actual entertainment of the story line and the reader’s engagement with it, sort of plods along. A good third of the novel could be taken out and with some edits to make the deletion seamless, I don’t think the story would be any worse, but in fact better. The plot drags along as the protagonist Ana slowly comes to realize what is going on and where her father may be (and as she proceeds to ignore every bit of advice/warning given to her, thereby prolonging the moment of realizations). The outbreak of the ‘virus’ similarly limps along until sudden chaos erupts in the final portion of the novel.

Filled with lots of wonderful pieces (I loved the retro feel of the Luddite-type society and the use of the pneumatic message tubes), the sum total of “The Word Exchange” somehow fails. In a way the whole of the novel is somehow symbolic of many of the sentences found within it (due to the word virus): phrases of lucidity but lots of meaningless contrafibulations interspersed throughout the crotix that end up making the message of the yozil fail to manifest or grok. Never quite reaching impressive literary feats, but also failing to be more than the average genre novel, the whole feels unremarkable. However, this isn’t a terrible book either. If you are really enticed by books, language, etc, and the description speaks to you, this could be well worth your time. But if you are picky and want something special, this may not be it. Ultimately if you do give it a read, trust your impressions after the first few chapters.

Two-and-a-Half Stars out of Five

Bleeders, by Anthony Bruno

Bleeders, by Anthony Bruno
Publisher: Diversion Books
ASIN: B004BA5EUQ
274 pages, Kindle Edition
Published March 2014
Source: NetGalley

I greatly enjoyed the first Gibbons & Tozzi novel by Bruno – and have the second one to read – but I decided to take the opportunity to also read this stand-alone one. Lacking the moral ambiguity set up by the other series, “Bleeders” seemed a far more common story, a standard serial killer thriller that makes use of personal, past connections between the killer and the investigative protagonist.

The most successful element of “Bleeders” is the serial killer, effectively rendered suave and profoundly creepy. The novel is decidedly not a mystery, the killer is known from the start and it is fairly obvious how the story will proceed. Interestingly, it could be argued that the killer is the actual protagonist of the novel rather than the investigator, who is also not as interesting or strong of a character. “Bleeders” focuses on the killer’s psychological problems, the event that fully set him on his course, and his absolute obsession with fulfilling his deviant desires and fantasy. Yet even looking at the story as being centered around the killer, he is flat-out evil and obsessed, not remotely complex.

“Bleeders” is an enjoyable crime thriller, despite being standard in many respects. If reading this genre is something you enjoy for a good easy read, you won’t go wrong here, particularly if you are interested in a story centered a little more on the killer than the law. If you are looking for complexities and compelling well-rounded characters, or if you could be easily put off by the creepy dysfunction of the killer, this probably won’t suit.

Three Stars out of Five

The Quick, by Lauren Owen

The Quick, by Lauren Owen
Publisher: Random House
ASIN: B00H4EM4WW
528 pages, Kindle Edition
Published April 2014
Source: NetGalley

Lauren Owen’s debut novel is a difficult one to assign a rating. Overall it is an above-average book and will be of interest to many readers. However, the enjoyment of it I think will vary quite substantially from reader to reader, in a not-too-easy to predict fashion. If the plot (including the ‘twist’) is something you find intriguing, you should definitely check this out. It is extremely well-written and Gothic-moody, but its execution and the ultimate direction of its plot may cause some frustrations.

Some have considered discussion of what this book is about to be a spoiler. Given the implications of the title, I don’t take this to be the case. Though not mentioned in the novel’s summary ‘blurb’, I think it unfair to try and rope people into reading a story they may have no interest in. Knowing what the story ultimately about doesn’t spoil much, in fact it probably makes the surprise transition from the first third of the book to the remainder far easier to go along with. So without further ado, if you REALLY REALLY don’t want to know anything more about the novel, you’ll have to stop reading.

Potential Spoilers Follow

“The Quick” starts off as a fabulously engrossing Gothic story about a secret society, and of a sister and brother living in a large empty home in the absence of their parents, under the care of a servant as their father is away. The first third of the novel focuses upon the brother, grown up and at university, as he makes roommates, friends, and eventually romantic ties with a gentleman he meets there. Throughout this portion of the book the story is filled with a literary richness, excellent characterization, continued foreboding Gothic tensions, and drives forward certain expectations on how one suspects the plot may unfold.

These expectations are then shattered when tragedy strikes and the focus of the novel shifts to bring in the identity of this secret society brought up back in the prologue. Vampires. The remainder of the novel is a story about vampires, what the society is about, why they have done what they’ve done, and what the ramifications will be for both the brother and the sister. After a portion of the novel written in the form of diary by a man associated with the vampire society (to explain their characteristics and background history to the reader) the novel continues the ‘action’ of the plot by shifting back to the sister, who now arrives in search of her brother.

The dual focus, split in the book, between the brother and the sister is not a major problem. With the sudden plot twist of bringing in vampires, this split focus is perfectly valid. The shattering of reader expectations based on the first third of the book isn’t even necessarily a bad thing. It’s great to have cliched expectations shattered. The problem becomes when one potential expected plotline is simply replaced with another completely different one that begins to feel even more cliched and predictable. Sadly, I feel this is largely what happens with “The Quick”.

Vampire novels have been done to death. Here it is made somewhat unique by giving it a strong classic literary and Gothic style as opposed to the more recent takes on the subject. The addition of these vampires in an organized society led by one particularly visionary individual gives the vampire plotline even greater potential to take on something new in this novel. This individual does not merely look on the normal “Quick” humanity with ambivalence or disdain. Rather he views them with a sort of pity, claiming a desire to use the society’s powers and influence to not simply survive and feed, but to try and find ways to improve and better humankind. This is a very interesting concept.

Unfortunately, the concept is never developed. Instead the novel becomes a rather standard (though consisting of great prose) novel of fighting against the vampire society’s plans. The supposed ‘well-meaning’ intentions of the vampire leader turn out to be disingenuous, mainly a victim of power corrupting, turning him into a typical vampire monster and thereby negating any potential exploration of a vampire doing great things while also having to rely on predation.

Those who simply adore well written Gothic novels, fans of vampire fiction, and the like will enjoy this book greatly, even if they don’t love it. Those unsuspecting and disinterested in the vampire plot may feel misled, and those that fell in love with the literary beauty of the first third of the novel may become disappointed by its turn into rather predictable genre fiction, albeit with a continued ‘literary’ style of prose.

Three Stars out of Five

Black Chalk, by Christopher J. Yates

Black Chalk, by Christopher J. Yates
Publisher: Random House
ASIN: B00CZ7OC28
356 pages, Kindle Edition
Published April 2014
Source: NetGalley

The summary description of “Black Chalk” enticed me with the novel’s premise, yet it also made me wary with its comparisons to Donna Tartt’s brilliant “The Secret History”. Both of these initial impressions proved well-founded. Yates’ debut novel is built around a terrific idea, the development and consequences of a cruel, high-stakes game developed by a group of college students. This period and setting of life, simultaneously a step forward into ‘adulthood’ and also a regression to child-like social mentalities, is prime both for literary exploration and construction of a wonderful thriller as Donna Tartt proved.

Whether Yates’ work here is directly influenced by Tartt’s novel or just bears chance similarities in plot, it is notable that the similarities between works are superficial, at the level of setting and general themes. In addition to a secretive group of intelligent, though naive, students, “Black Chalk” has the additional element of an enigmatic outside force shaping the start of events. “Game Club” as they are called, make one of the most intriguing aspects of the novel, yet its purpose and secret wind up being rather mundane, leaving this element sadly under-utilized.

Instead, “Black Chalk” focuses on the students, particularly the founding pair of the group, using a narrative structure of first person recounting prior events through third person. As the history is told, it becomes clear both who the narrator is and that he suffers from mental problems and drug side effects, suggesting his related information may be unreliable. Indeed it begins to appear that some of the recorded text may not even be the narrator’s own words, but something another has come in and added to his writings. Unfortunately, very little is done with the potential created by this unreliability. Past events are described still from solely this unreliable point of view, leaving things confusing just how much is ‘true’ and what is imagined or altered.

Initial suspense created by the narrative structure and the general premise of the plot become bogged down in much of the inaction of the novel’s progression. The social disintegration of the student’s friendship is hardly surprising, and the cruel games end up feeling not terribly bad considering the build up for horrors that the mind of the reader may begin to imagine. The suspense of the novel builds the reader up for an eventual showdown and ending to the ‘game’, and while the ultimate solution for achieving victory is well constructed, this showdown also ends up feeling like a let-down, far less disastrous or horrible as expectations may be.

The writing of “Black Chalk” is good, but it doesn’t give the novel the same literary weight as Tartt’s work, covering similar issues, but without the degree of symbolism, allusions, etc. In the end it could still have been a decent thriller, but never managed to be as ‘disturbing’ as I initially expected from the premise. I think Yates has the talent to produce some great works, this debut just had too many issues in terms of characterization, depth, missed opportunities, and the unfortunate invitation for comparison to “The Secret History”.

Two Stars out of Five

Nightmare City, by Andrew Klavan

Nightmare City, by Andrew Klavan
Publisher: Thomas Nelson Publishers
ISBN: 1595547975
311 pages, hardcover
Published November 2013
Source: Goodreads First-Reads

This is the first book by Klavan that I’ve read, but I was intrigued by the information about this book’s plot and the reception of others to his previous novels. This one turned out to be a disappointment however, which is a particular shame in that due to shipping problems I ended up with two copies (one I passed on to a friend), and the publishers were very kind about this. I hope others enjoy these copies as I pass them on at least.

Nightmare City suggests to me that Klavan can write really well, but it just seems lazy here in terms of plotting and development. Although the main character, Tom, is compelling, the others are all flat and the story is too straightforward, remarkably predictable. The first half of the novel consists of Tom wandering around in a literal fog, trying to figure out the situation he is in, with moments of filling in backstory or him being ‘threatened’ by so called ‘malevolents’. We are told how awful these creatures are, but never get much more than a vague sense of what they are or the danger they supposedly present. I say ‘supposedly’ because many a chapter seemed to end with Tom in dire straights only to start the next chapter with him ‘waking’ anew in a new situation, apparently safe and fine. As such, after awhile these ‘malevolent’ threats start to lose their effect.

Repetition of themes also occurs throughout the novel, such as truth and the search for it. To Klavan’s credit the theme doesn’t get too preachy or too beholden to any particular religion until the tail-end of the story with a few too-sappy moments where the protagonist is urged to keep on living because of Christ’s sacrifice. Which is kind of an odd theological view in itself.

The ideas and themes here are straightforward thus too, but they are also simplistic, and not particularly realistic or helpful for a young person as presented in the absolute sort of world “Nightmare City” exists within. Moreover, at no time does Tom actually remind of any teen I have ever known. Some questions at the end of the book could help getting someone to think a little more deeply about the issues Klavan raises through his story, one only wishes there were a bit more complexity in addressing those same issues in the story itself rather than simply following the obvious paths.

One Star out of Five

Bad Guys, by Anthony Bruno

Bad Guys, by Anthony Bruno
Gibbons & Tozzi #1
Publisher: Diversion Books
ASIN: B00I36D8RA
272 pages, Kindle Edition
Published January 2014
(Original Publ: 1988)
Source: NetGalley

Reading this I couldn’t help thinking of the titles from Hard Case Crime that I’ve read and how perfectly it fits into the mold, Diversion offers a great ebook deal with this for people who like gritty pulp crime stories. This one has all of the hallmarks: hardened cops skirting and surpassing the law, a femme fatale, low life crooks, demented mafia kingpins, and a keen sense of period style – in this case the ’80s, which we can now look back in nostalgia not unlike the classic noir set in decades prior.

There isn’t anything particularly new here then, rather tried and trusted tropes of noir and mafia crime stories, put together into a fast-paced intensity that keeps the reader engaged amid the twists of plot. Though vigilantes with questionable morals, the protagonists perfectly serve as vicarious fulfillments of that need for justice and revenge.

The only downside to the novel was that moment when my brain engaged fully enough to look past the entertainment to really question the logic of the plot and the ability of Gibbons and Tozzi to avoid being offed by the baddies. Really, how long could they meddle in this stuff without being more effectively targeted for elimination?

Despite this, “Bad Guys” is a simply fun book for those that like this genre, and I’d be happy to read others in the series.

Four Stars out of Five

The Weight of Blood, by Laura McHugh

The Weight of Blood, by Laura McHugh
Publisher: Spiegl & Grau
ASIN: B00F8FA30E
320 pages, Kindle Edition
Published March 2014
Source: NetGalley

McHugh’s debut novel is an impressive thriller covering a coming-of-age crisis for Lucy, a seventeen year old growing up in a close knit rural town of the Ozarks, and the tragic history of her mother Lila, who mysteriously disappeared while Lucy was still a baby. When a classmate and minor friend goes missing and subsequently turns up dead, Lucy begins to investigate the crime, drawing her to truths about her town and family that have lied hidden, barely beneath the surface, and revelations about her mother’s life and disappearance.

The novel is told in two parts, the first alternating chapters between the points of view of Lucy and flash-backs in the view of her mother, Lila. Readers are thereby introduced to the cast of characters, many spanning across both time periods, until the second part when the point of view cast is expanded to the secondary characters of each period. The expansion serves to relate plot points out of the protagonists experiences, but also helps to lend greater complexity and understanding to some of the secondary characters who previously come across as largely one-dimensional and utterly unsympathetic. While the expansion of view in the second part was a bit surprising, the story would have had trouble succeeding by keeping things limited to Lucy and Lila.

“The Weight of Blood” is only nominally a mystery. The ‘bad guys’ of the novel are clear rather early on, and the only mysteries lie in the precise details of the crimes and the precise fate of Lila. Instead of mystery, the lure of this novel rests with its characters and setting, and the themes woven into them. Physically and spiritually similar, Lila and Lucy differ dramatically in their pasts and ‘present’ conditions. Raised in foster care and disfunction, driftless and exploited, Lila elicits the reader’s sympathy with her intelligence, heart, and strength to find a settled life of happiness amid the distrust and hostility of rural America. Lucy, in contrast, has been doted upon, raised under the close love and support of her family and neighbors, relatively ignorant of the ways of the world, but with a desire to explore. Lucy is largely sheltered, and the novel in a large part is about the opening up of her world as she reaches adulthood. Opening it up to the reality of boys and sex and opening it up to the realization that her loving town and family are not all perfect and good, but that terrible things go on which people she loves and respects have either perpetrated, or allowed happen while turning a blind eye.

The revelation that her family has dark secrets brings up the other major theme of the novel, distinct from the ‘coming-of-age’ aspects. And the novel is perfectly named for this other theme, the weight of blood. Once Lucy has come to knowledge of adulthood and her innocent, naive views of her family and town are shattered, she then most decide what to do about these secrets her family holds. Not only does Lucy have to deal with this issue, but so does her father, and by extension the entire ‘family’ of this small Ozark town. The ties between blood relations, the degrees to which we as humans are willing to forgive, to look past, or to ignore faults and evils in our kin is at the heart of what McHugh is writing here. In a small town where everyone knows each other’s business, how can horrible, evil crime occur without people knowing about it? Because they lie to themselves, they ignore it, they look away, they explain it away; that is far easier than having to turn on your kin, on someone you love, and who has been a vital support throughout your own life. These human social complexities in the background of the plot in this novel are what make it truly special.

The final piece of McHugh’s writing that makes “The Weight of Blood” a special book is her insight and appreciation for the Ozark setting. The dialogue in the novel is okay, not stellar, and at times even sounds as if spoken by Captain Exposition. But the descriptions are lovely, with McHugh vividly painting the settings so that it is almost a character unto itself controlling the lives of those that populate it. Set beside other chapters relating inhumanity and brutality, the beauty of the Ozarks makes a nice contrast in the novel.

Four Stars out of Five