Thanks to NetGalley and Berkley for providing an eARC in exchange for an honest review.
Release Date: January 19th, 2021
Synopsis: An audacious novel of feminine rage, about one of the most prolific female serial killers in American history—and the men who drove her to it.
They whisper about her in Chicago. Men come to her with their hopes, their dreams—their fortunes. But no one sees them leave. No one sees them at all after they come to call on the Widow of La Porte. The good people of Indiana may have their suspicions, but if those fools knew what she’d given up, what was taken from her, how she’d suffered, surely they’d understand. Belle Gunness learned a long time ago that a women has to make her own way in this world. That’s all it is. A bloody means to an end. A glorious enterprise meant to raise her from the bleak, colorless drudgery of her childhood to the life she deserves. After all, vermin always survive.
As nighmare-inducing as In the Garden of Spite is, the fact that it’s based on true events, gives it an extra level of horror. Many of you know I’m a fairly quick reader, but once I started reading, it was impossible for me to put this down, and I flew through this in the course of one night!
I hadn’t heard of Brynhild Paulsdatter Størseth, aka Belle, before now, and this book is a mix of fact, embellishments, and fiction. In the beginning I felt sympathy for her and the bleak circumstances of her growing up dirt poor and ultimately the victim of a severe beating which resulted in the loss of her unborn child at the hands of the father, in Norway (this event is rumored to have happened, but is unproven). However, that feeling waned as her victims began to pile up. The story is a slow burn in the beginning, yet I was completely engrossed, wanting to know what turned this woman into such a cold-hearted, prolific serial killer. Alongside Belle’s chapters are her older sister Nellie’s which give further insight into the development of this sociopath.
Normally I’d say almost 500 pages would be too long for a book like this, but Camilla Bruce does such a wonderful job blending fact with fiction in her portrayal of the enigmatic Belle, that I soon lost interest in the page count. The Afterward is a must read as well, as Bruce talks about how she came to write this, as well as what is documented as fact and what fictional elements she added. In the Garden of Spite, is a multi-layered blend of horror, true crime, historical fiction, and psychological thriller that I highly recommend. It’s left me wanting to do more research, which I call a huge success. I unhesitatingly recommend it to readers who enjoy books like Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City.