Review: IN THE GARDEN OF SPITE by Camilla Bruce
Published by BERKLEY on January 19, 2021
Genres: Historical Fiction
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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.
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!
Olivia Roach recently posted…December Wrap Up 
Yes, this was a new experience for me too. Definitely different from most historical fiction I’ve read.
A female serial killer is pretty rare, so this sounds fascinating!
Awesome review, Suzanne! I thought the same thing about Belle. I couldn’t tear my eyes away from her even though she’s obviously doing horrible things😁
Tammy @ Books, Bones & Buffy recently posted…The Friday Face-Off – Spaceships & Explosions
I’m glad I’m not the only one. I was just so fascinated by how clever she was. Always thinking on her feet.
Not quite my kind of book (you know I prefer my stories fluffy), but I love a book that follows a character for so many years.
Sam@wlabb recently posted…Isn’t It Romantic?
It was definitely an interesting journey.
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!
Anne – Books of My Heart recently posted…Thrifty Thursday – The Perfect Death by Stacy Claflin
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.
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!
Sophie recently posted…The Happy Ever After Playlist by Abby Jimenez. Audiobook mini review of a nice surprise! #2021AudiobookChallenge
Yeah, it was pretty intense in that respect. I had to make sure I wasn’t eating when I read those scenes, lol.
I came so close to passing this one up but when I learned it was based on a true person, I jumped on it. Excellent review, Suzanne💜 Sounds exactly like what I am hoping for.
Jonetta (Ejaygirl) | Blue Mood Café recently posted…The Highlander’s Christmas Countess by Anna Campbell @AnnaCampbellOz
It’s fascinating to think such a person actually existed.
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.
ShootingStarsMag recently posted…New Feature: Behind the Bookstagram
I’ve heard really good things about You Let Me In so I’d like to read that one at some point.
I’m intrigued by this one, great review
Shelleyrae @ Book’d Out recently posted…2021 Nonfiction Reader Challenge Inspiration Part #2
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. 🙂
Lark recently posted…Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty
It really is a fascinating read. 🙂
I’ve been wanting to read this since I first heard about it. And now I can’t wait after reading your review!
I hope you enjoy it!
I like books with female antagonists. Reminds of the ‘Good Marriage’ somehow. I’ll take a look. Hope you have a great week.
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Thanks, you too!