My rating: 4 of 5 stars
A gripping debut psychological crime novel about family lies and dark secrets in an isolated community as a series of women go missing.
People still whisper about Lucy Dane's mother who vanished years ago from the town of Henbane, deep in the Ozark mountains.
When one of Lucy's friends is found murdered, Lucy feels haunted by the two lost women: by the mother she never knew, and the friend she couldn't protect.
But her search for answers, in a place where secrets are easily concealed, leads her to a chilling discovery.
And with this revelation, she must grapple with the meaning of family, the secrets we keep, and the lengths we will go to protect the ones we love.
The story in the main is told by both Lucy and her mother Lila and the author jumps from past to present using this split narrative throughout the novel to bring the two halves together thus solving the mysteries and conclude the story.
There are some good sound characters in this story with detailed scene and mood setting, add this to the very closely tight knit community complete with mistrust of outsiders, secrets and superstitions and you have a recipe for a good psychological thriller. McHugh does not disappoint; this is a well written novel with just the right amount of pace and suspense to keep the reader going right to the end.
We open with Lucy the daughter of Lila who has grown up in Henbane; she is upset about the disappearance of a school friend Cheri whose dismembered body is eventually discovered a year later hanging in a tree. Lucy is haunted by having worried about Cheri but not having done anything to find her. What happened to her and where she was for a year was the topic of conversation all through the spring but once the shock and fear of a killer being on the loose subsides her death fades and she is all but forgotten.
We first meet Lila when she arrives in Henbane in answer to a job vacancy signing a two year contract to work on the Dane farm; an orphan after her parents died in a car crash, she has been through the foster care system and is desperate to belong somewhere with people she can trust. She was passed from foster home to foster home until she reaches an age where she is old enough to find her own way. She learnt at an early age not to trust men having had to fend off sexual advances from the many foster fathers and sons' she found herself placed with while going through the 'system' which resulted in her moving seven times in six years.
Lila's foster sister Crystal said they got moved around so much because they were pretty and had big boobs, foster moms didn't want them tempting their husbands and sons. McHugh tells us that Lila is a hypnotic mystical looking creature, dark black hair and piercing ice green eyes, someone that people feel drawn to. She arrives in Henbane and is taken to a remote farm miles from the nearest town and although apprehensive she knows that she has no where else to go and has to make this work. She works both on the farm and as a waitress in Crete Dane's restaurant/cafe where she befriends another waitress Gabby and they become good friends. Lila also meets Carl Dane, Crete's younger brother and in time they become close. Locals mistrust strangers and Lila is no exception, having no family and reluctant to talk about her past, the town believes she had been cast out of her own community, rumor spreads that she is a witch.
The story does alternate between the two main characters going back and forth in time but McHugh does this very well and is able to maintain continuity so that the reader does not feel lost or confused. I enjoyed the story and the secrets that come out over the course of the book, the tight knit community and strong bonds that bind family loyalties comes through well.
It would not be fair to reveal more of the story so I won't but I would encourage others to read it for themselves and enjoy the journey of loyalty, secrets, truth and consequences. I would give this an easy 4 stars for an enjoyable first novel, Laura McHugh looks like one to watch!
I would like to thank the publisher for sending me this copy in exchange for an honest review.