Review: IN THE GARDEN OF SPITE by Camilla Bruce

Review:  IN THE GARDEN OF SPITE by Camilla BruceIn the Garden of Spite by Camilla Bruce
Published by BERKLEY on January 19, 2021
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pages: 480
Source: Netgalley
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley. All opinions are my own.







“Man Shall Inherit the Earth…Unless She Kills Him First.”  I’ve been wanting to try one of Camilla Bruce’s books for a while now and when I saw this attention-grabbing tagline on the cover of her latest novel, In the Garden of Spite, I knew I had to read it.  In the Garden of Spite is a work of historical fiction that follows the life of Belle Gunness, perhaps better known as “The Black Widow of La Porte,” one of the most famous female serial killers in American History.

Let me start by saying In the Garden of Spite isn’t for the faint of heart.  Belle’s preferred methods of dispatching her victims ranged from poisons to cleavers, and she quite literally butchered them, chopping them into manageable pieces to make it easier to bury them in her backyard.  So yes, it’s gory and gruesome at times, but if you can get past that, this story is a fascinating, in-depth look inside the mind of a serial killer.  I was equally repulsed and riveted the entire time I was reading.

The author takes us through about thirty years of Belle’s life, from when she was a child living in poverty in Norway all the way through to the height of her killing spree once she has immigrated to America.  Belle’s early life was not an easy one and the author paints a vivid portrait as to how abuse, trauma, and poverty could have shaped her into the very disturbed woman we meet in this book.

Belle is a truly fascinating character and I found myself drawn to her more than I expected to be.  She’s not an especially likeable character, being a serial killer and all, but wow, her resourcefulness and determination is impressive! As twisted as she could be most of the time, I frequently found myself quite impressed by her at other times.  How she managed to spin her way out of trouble time and time again, and how she is constantly able to reinvent herself.  Normally an unlikeable main character would derail my enjoyment of a book, but Belle is just so fascinating that I found myself glued to the story in spite of myself.

One of my favorite parts of the story though is how Belle’s life is presented.  The author uses two perspectives, 1) Belle’s and 2) Belle’s older sister, Nellie, who also lives in America.  With Belle’s perspective, we obviously get that intimate look into what she’s thinking and feeling as she commits each heinous murder.  With Nellie’s perspective though, we get the perspective of a family member who loves her sister deeply, but who is also torn between her desire to protect her baby sister from the world and her increasing suspicion that there is something truly broken in Belle and that she may be forced to do something about it.  I just loved the contrast in these two points of view.

If you’re interested in learning more about The Black Widow of La Porte, I highly recommend In the Garden of Spite.  It’s a dark and grisly, yet truly riveting tale.


About Camilla Bruce

Camilla Bruce is a Norwegian writer of dark speculative and historical fiction.

Her debut novel, You Let Me In, is out now from Bantam Press (UK) and Tor (US).

Her dark historical, In the Garden of Spite, will be published by Berkley (US) and Michael Joseph (UK) in 2021.

24 replies
  1. Olivia Roach
    Olivia Roach says:

    Wow, I have never read a historical fiction book which sounds like this one. I am all in for a female serial killer in history, and her character sounds absolutely fascinating. I am glad you could enjoy the first book you read from this author!

  2. Anne - Books of My Heart
    Anne - Books of My Heart says:

    I think I’d like this and it certainly is popular right now. I just wonder if I’d have the same issue I do with a lot of historical fiction, which is ok, what is the true story? Fantastic review!

    • Suzanne
      Suzanne says:

      I hear you on that. The author’s note at the end does a great job of filling in some gaps between fact and fiction, but I still want to know more about this woman.

  3. Sophie
    Sophie says:

    I am not certain I would love this one with her cutting her victims in tiny pieces to dispatch them easily but that certainly seems a unique read!

  4. ShootingStarsMag
    ShootingStarsMag says:

    You Let Me In has been on my wish list for awhile, but so is this one too. I’m so glad you liked it. Good to know it can be quite gory, but it sounds fascinating.


  5. Lark
    Lark says:

    I don’t mind dark reads when they’re done well, and this book sounds fascinating. So glad you reviewed this one. I don’t think I would have come across this book otherwise. 🙂

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