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.