Safe and Sound

A Novel

Hardcover

April 23, 2024 | ISBN 9780593448854

Ebook

April 23, 2024 | ISBN 9780593448861

About the Book

Six years after their cousin vanished from their home while they were sleeping, two sisters set out to learn the truth behind what happened—even if it puts their own lives in danger—in this haunting thriller from the internationally bestselling author of What’s Done in Darkness.

“Beautifully written, unflinchingly told, and relentlessly suspenseful.”—Heather Gudenkauf, author of The Overnight Guest


In a town no one ever leaves, there are only so many places to hide.

As kids, Amelia and Kylee were found unharmed in their upstairs bedroom the night their teenage cousin Grace, who was babysitting them, vanished from the farmhouse in Beaumont, Missouri, leaving blood all over the kitchen. Scrappy and driven, Grace, the first in their family to go to college instead of getting married and working at the meatpacking plant, had been on the verge of escaping their dead-end town. Her disappearance is a warning to any local girl who dared hope for better.

Now, as their own high school graduation looms, Amelia and Kylee dream about fleeing Beaumont, but the likelihood of that happening seems as low as that of Grace being found. When human remains are discovered in town, the sisters think they finally know who took Grace—but as they dig deeper into her past, they unearth long-buried secrets and a growing list of suspects.

Amelia and Kylee vow to find Grace, dead or alive. But as they draw closer to the truth and slip further into danger, they question how far someone would go to put a woman in her place, or to cover up a crime. The answer is worse than they could have imagined, and in the end, it won’t just be Grace they’re trying to save—they’ll have to fight for their lives.
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Praise for Safe and Sound

“As a long-time fan of Laura McHugh’s work, I was overjoyed to see she has another novel coming our way, set—like the books that precede it—amongst the hardscrabble corners of rural Missouri. . . . McHugh has a precise skill for capturing the low-grade anxieties embedded in many small towns; her stories are taut with that strain, and relish in exploring what happens when the string finally snaps.”Elle
 
Safe and Sound, by Laura McHugh, is a haunting, intricately layered, and lyrical novel about family secrets, unspoken evil, and the search for the truth, no matter the costs. McHugh masterfully evokes the fabric and landscape of small-town life, the need to escape, and the bonds that hold you tight. Beautifully written, unflinchingly told, and relentlessly suspenseful, Safe and Sound belongs at the top of every to-be-read list.”—Heather Gudenkauf, New York Times bestselling author of The Overnight Guest and Everyone Is Watching

“An evocative, riveting, and gorgeously written mystery, Safe and Sound is a finely detailed exploration of complicated familial bonds and the ways in which our upbringing can hold us captive, even when we try our hardest to break free of the things that haunt us. McHugh is never afraid to take her readers to dark places, and this novel will have you turning pages long into the night.”—Amy Engel, author of I Did It For You and The Roanoke Girls

“McHugh seamlessly combines eerie mystery with gritty social realism, grounding the story’s hair-raising jolts in the emotional realities of her three-dimensional characters. Readers won’t be able to put this down.”Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“[McHugh] deftly captures the hardships of a small and insular community with vivid detail. A suspenseful tale of resilience that will resonate with anyone who has ever yearned for a fresh start.”—Kirkus Reviews

Praise for What’s Done in Darkness

“Laura McHugh’s psychological thrillers are characterized by their deeply wrought characters, objectively harrowing situations, and their shared setting in the Midwest and Ozarks.”Oprah Daily

“McHugh writes here, as in earlier novels, with compassion and a strong moral compass.”The New York Times Book Review

“What really sets McHugh apart . . . is that her social novels are seasoned with gothic horror. Each of them has kept me reading late into the night and left me chilled by their revelations.”Los Angeles Times
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Excerpt

Safe and Sound

One

Aunt Elsie sat on her mobility scooter in the laundromat parking lot amid piles of dirty snow, wearing white sandals and her good Easter dress despite the bitter wind that swept down Main Street. She pushed her glasses up as she eyed the gathering crowd, adjusted the wilted red carnation pinned at her breast. Her boyfriend, Jimmy, slumped against a tree behind her, looking like a misshapen fungus growing out of the trunk. He held a posterboard sign with still missing neatly lettered at the top in blood-red marker, a blown-up photocopy of Grace’s senior picture pasted below. Jimmy was more than twenty years younger than Aunt Elsie and might have been mistaken for her son if most folks in Beaumont didn’t already know every twig on every branch of everyone else’s family tree.

Days ago, Kylee and I’d stretched across the hood of my car in tank tops, gazing up at the budding trees. My face still stung with sunburn. It had been a fool’s spring, typical of Missouri in March, and now everything was dead again, the tender buds frozen, blossoms shriveled and brown. Every living thing that had sprung forth in hope had been taught a brutal lesson. As daylight faded, the wind picked up, rattling crumpled beer cans along the gutter. At the front of the crowd, Aunt Elsie began to speak, her voice brittle to the point of cracking.

“Six years ago tonight, my daughter was taken from me, snatched away in the dark. Grace was my whole world, and you have no idea how much I miss her every single day. Six years on, and we’ve still got nothing but questions, but I will never give up hope that we’ll find her. One way or another, we’ll bring her home.”

Aunt Elsie held the vigil every year, and every year, she said we’d bring Grace home, but the ironic part was that what Grace had wanted most was to get away from here. She was always telling me and Kylee that we had to get out before we got stuck, that there was no life for us in Beaumont. There was no choice but to leave and not look back. Otherwise, we’d be married and pregnant and working at the meatpacking plant before we were old enough to buy beer. We didn’t really get it back then—we were only ten, eleven years old when she disappeared—but I did now. Cutting Road circled around town, from the hospital to the meatpacking plant to the graveyard, and that was life in Beaumont from start to finish. You were born at Beaumont General, worked at Savor Meats, and then ended up in Beaumont Memorial Cemetery. It was like the kiddie-car ride at the county fair, where you’ve got your own steering wheel and you can turn it all you want, but there’s only one way to go, the track laid out before you got there. Not much changed from one generation to the next, except the spring Grace vanished, the hospital had been shuttered, the building abandoned. Kids broke in to get high and have sex. If they got pregnant, they’d have to go to Springfield to give birth. The only babies born in Beaumont now were born at home.

Kylee stood next to me, scanning the crowd. A few of Grace’s old classmates had come, folks from Elsie’s church, kids from our high school who hadn’t known Grace but knew the stories. She served as a cautionary tale, one inevitably brought up after dark at sleepovers and drunken bonfires. While fool’s spring kept us from being too optimistic, Grace’s disappearance warned the young girls of Beaumont not to get too big for their britches. You think you’re better than this? You want out? Be careful what you wish for. They didn’t have to say the last part out loud: Look what happened to Grace Crow. The vigil had been shrinking each year, but there were more people than usual tonight.

“I told you the bones’d bring people out,” Kylee said. “They think it’s her.”

It happened every time human remains were found somewhere in Missouri and it made the news. The rumor mill roared back to life, certain it must be Grace. It never was. This time, though, the bones were found uncomfortably close to home. Two weeks back, a skeleton had been discovered on an old farmstead near the county line where one of the Savor plant managers was building a new house. A long-abandoned farmhouse and barn and other outbuildings were razed to make way for construction, so it was possible the bones were from a family grave. Or they might belong to a missing person who hadn’t been missed. The farm wasn’t far from the interstate—it could be a runaway or transient or addict whose vanishing went unnoticed, ungrieved, the bones left without a name. Still, there was a flicker of possibility that it might be her, that we would finally know. A pilot light sparking and shuddering in my heart.

“Please join me in prayer,” Elsie said, raising her bare arms, pale flesh billowing.

Some of the kids whispered and snickered as Elsie began to pray, but most everyone else dutifully closed their eyes, making it easier for me to look them over, take stock of them. I always wondered, at these gatherings, whether the person who took Grace stood among us. As a kid, I’d imagined a stranger with blood under his nails that would never wash away. Elsie thought it must’ve been one of Grace’s customers at the Waffle House, a man passing through on the interstate who’d followed her home. Mama snorted at that. What, you think people you know won’t hurt you? She wasn’t impressed by alibis, and rightfully so. Even if there was bad blood between you, you’d have to be a real piece of shit for your own family not to lie and vouch for you around here.

There were no strangers among us tonight, though some familiar faces were missing. Mama hadn’t shown up, even though she knew how much it would hurt Elsie. It was no surprise. She didn’t care for memorials, vigils, whatever you wanted to call them. Prayers made her antsy. Even getting her to church for a funeral was like trying to force a feral cat into a cage. She’d practically spread-eagle her body against the doorframe to avoid going inside. I didn’t see Mrs. Mummer either—Grace’s favorite teacher, and mine and Kylee’s, too. And for the second year in a row, Levi hadn’t come. We couldn’t expect him to mourn his high school sweetheart forever, even if we wanted him to. Still, it felt as though Grace deserved at least that much, for everyone who loved her to mark her absence, to remember what we had lost.

Aunt Elsie began to tell her favorite stories about Grace: how she would pretend to read an encyclopedia while sitting on her training potty; how she had saved me, her cousin Amelia, from drowning when I was four years old. Kylee pulled away from my side and drifted into the crowd, her black jacket and dark hair ceding to the shadows. Smoke leaked from the cracked window of one of the parked cars, someone inside sucking a cigarette, maybe waiting on their laundry, maybe here for the vigil but not willing to brave the cold. It was one of those ridiculously long cars from the seventies that was probably impressive when it was new, and now looked like something an aging backwoods pimp would drive. That was probably a fair description of half the vehicles in Beaumont, though.

A movement caught my eye, someone waving from the curb. Ketch, his head freshly shaved. I’d been staring right past him without realizing. He had to work, so I hadn’t expected him to come, but he must’ve stopped on his way. He’d be leaving for boot camp soon, something he’d been waiting to do for as long as I’d known him. For kindergarten graduation, our teacher had asked each of us what we wanted to be when we grew up, and our responses had been printed in the program, which I had recently unearthed while cleaning out a drawer. The girls had wanted to be princesses and singers, except for me and Carly Greer. Carly said trucker, probably because her dad was a trucker, and I said dancer, because I thought that was what my mom did on the stage at Sweet Jane’s. Mama had snort-laughed when she saw the program, and it took me years to realize what was funny. Most of the boys wanted to be football players or NASCAR drivers. Ketch said soldier. With graduation looming, none of our classmates had a chance in hell of appearing on American Idol or winning a football scholarship. Even the most modest aspirations had escaped our reach. Carly Greer wouldn’t be driving a semi anytime soon; she’d lost her license and was on house arrest at the Happy Trails mobile home park, her teeth rotting out of her mouth. I’d graduated a semester early so I could go full-time waitressing at Waffle House. Ketch was the only one who’d managed to follow through on his dream, the only one on his way out of town.

Kylee and I talked about leaving all the time, but it had begun to feel like something we only talked about instead of something we would actually do. Like how Aunt Elsie kept saying she was going to stop feeding the stray cat that came around, because she didn’t want it to get too comfortable and decide to stay, and now it had birthed two litters of kittens and they all lived under the porch, multiplying, while Elsie sewed little catnip toys for them and bought bulk cat food in huge bags from the feedstore. That was how things happened. We weren’t those people until we were. Years from now, Kylee and I’d probably be talking about leaving while we waited in line to buy scratcher tickets at the Kum & Go on our way home from the meatpacking plant to fix store-brand SpaghettiOs for our kids.

About the Author

Laura McHugh
Laura McHugh is the internationally bestselling author of The Weight of Blood, winner of the International Thriller Writers Award and Silver Falchion Award for best first novel; Arrowood, an International Thriller Writers Award finalist for best novel; The Wolf Wants In; and What’s Done in Darkness. McHugh lives in Missouri with her daughters. More by Laura McHugh
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