This is a gritty first novel by Laura McHugh. The setting of the story is the small town of Hensbane in the Ozark Mountains. It’s a clannish town and everybody knows everyone else’s business. It starts with sixteen year old Lucy Bane, a beautiful young woman who is the spitting image of her mother. This bothers the locals a great deal because her mother, Lila, an outsider to the close knit community, disappeared just months after Lucy’s birth.
Backwards and superstitious, they believed Lila to a witch and it was rumored she once turned a man into a snake. Don’t let this descriptor turn you off to the book because it’s a wonderful mystery and plays out well.
The chapters are titled after the characters names (same as Maeve Binchy or George Martin patterned their books). The first few chapters are titled Lucy and set the ground work for Lucy’s friendship with a girl named Cheri. Cheri was slow, perhaps not retarded but very dim-witted; it seemed her only friend was Lucy. She disappeared one day and this had Lucy thinking about the mother she never knew. Where did these women go? What became of them? Lila never turned up during those 16 years but Cheri was later found butchered, placed in a tree near Lucy’s Uncle Crete’s restaurant.
Now the chapters go back and forth between Lucy and Lila. You learn Lila Petrovich arrived in Hensbane to work at Crete Bane’s farm and restaurant. She had no family, was orphaned at a young age and nowhere to go once she turned 16. Crete offers a job with room and board and she takes this a chance to start fresh. She is a beautiful young woman with striking features. She stands out from the community in looks and poise. Women are concerned she’ll take their husbands and she finds no friendship with the exception of her waitress co-worker at the dinner. Crete Bane has sinister ulterior motives but I won’t give a spoiler.
Once Lucy starts into Cheri’s life and digging for clues about her friend’s murder, she also turns up some information about her mother. She backs herself into a dangerous situation and you will be pleased that the ending isn’t predictable. Nice first novel, good mystery and I felt that small town clannishness as I read the story.
Simple home cooked fare was offered in this book. While I won’t attempt the squirrel dumplings Lila made for her neighbor I will offer a grilled steak, field peas and sweet potato for supper.
Here I am reading with my shiba inu Kobe. He’s got his thundershirt on to calm him from the storm.
Loving mysteries I will be delving into Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad books soon.