File Name: In the Garden of Spite
Author : Camilla Bruce (Goodreads Author)
ISBN : 9780593102565
Format : Hardcover 480 pages
Genre : Historical, Historical Fiction, Horror, Fiction, Crime, True Crime, Mystery, Adult, Thriller, Adult Fiction, Mystery Thriller,
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 woman 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.
Rating: it was amazing
I think after finishing this book, I will eventually suffer from nightmares at least for one month: it was mad, gruesome, dark, violent, extremely terrifying, disturbing, blood freezing , classic horrific combination of hair splitter- nerve bender- nail biter read!
And this is based on true events: a close encounter to one of the most dark, vicious, dangerous women serial killers of the history: ladies and gentlemen, may I introduce you Belle Gunness ( this time Belle is not definition of beauty, she is a cruel beast! Named herself after Queen Isabelle) A Norwegian American immigrates to the US, for brighter future, starting from the fresh.
We witnessed to her teenage years: she’s been mentally abused, bullied, belittled by the men from her inner circle for years( work environment and by her own father who insists she is a changeling), lost her child with the harsh kick to her abdomen by the baby’s bastard father who has no intention to marry her. She bled to death but she finds a way to survive, thanks for her determination, sturdiness beat the grime reaper’s ass!
For years of abuse, humiliation , losses, unkindness of her own family members, poverty, bottled up anger, resentment turn her into some kind of vengeful creator Aileen Wuornos meets Kris Jenner and Frakenstein’s Bride!
As soon as she takes care of the bastard who killed her unborn child, tarnished her reputation, she writes to her sister Nellie who is having a painful pregnancy, living in Chicago and make her convince to live with her family.
You may think a young woman could struggle to find her own way in the new continent. But guess what: Little Brynhild (her birth name) changes her name as Belle as soon as she takes her first steps to the new continent. She has a plan. She will never be hungry or suffer from poverty again and no other men will harm her!
Well, I don’t want to give more spoils but I have to say: she reached most of her goals: she became wealthy and she married ( if you don’t count her husbands start to die suspiciously and any men she involves with vanished into thin air!)
This is the fictionalization of true crime story: Belle is hungry: she never satisfies with the things she has. She always wants more! She is lustful! She has uncontrollable temper. She ruthless and she is a real actress who can deceive anybody about her innocence.
This book was too long but I cannot stop reading and interestingly I thought if there were 300 more pages, I would certainly read and enjoy it!
This is well written, mind blowing, extremely intense, dazzling, riveting novel. I devoured slowly but each chapter was like heavy meals which take extra time to absorb properly.
Honestly I didn’t enjoy the previous debut novel of the author but this one surprised me. The author succeeded a detailed, meticulous, outstanding job with layer characters. I enjoyed both Belle and her sister Nellie’s POVS.
I highly recommend this incredible novel to true crime and psychological thriller lovers.
Special thanks to NetGalley and Berkley Publishing Group for sharing this outstanding ARC with me in exchange my honest opinions.
Rating: really liked it
"The world is not kind to those who are different,' I whispered into Rudolph's hair as we rocked gently back and forth on the step. 'But then again,' I continued, 'she may not always be so kind to it either."
Well, well, well a female serial who is not sugar and spice and everything nice. Although she would want you to think that she is! Based on real life serial killer Belle Gunness, a Norwegian-American who killed in Illinois and Indiana between 1884 and 1908 before disappearing.
Belle is known in Chicago; people whisper about her and the many fires of her properties in addition to her two husbands both dying under suspicious circumstances. She always seems to profit from insurance payouts. But is she the angel of death? She presents as a god-fearing woman, who wants nothing more than to raise her children and be an upstanding member of society. She is nice to her neighbors, teaches Sunday school, and visits with her older sister. Everyone needs a hobby. Too bad hers is a deadly one.
Many have suspicions, but she presents as a godly woman. Living alone with her children. Who can fault her for trying to find a husband? But there are always two sides to every coin. Sometimes you must take the bitter with the sweet. Is the face you present to society your true face or is your true face, hidden just slightly under the surface, ready and willing to show itself if the opportunity presents itself?
She places ads for potential husbands, men come, they spend the night, but never stay.... or do they? Determined to make a place for herself in the world after a troublesome childhood and attack, will she come out on top?
I enjoyed this one from the very beginning. I love books based on true events and people. Belle is an interesting character. AS the story progresses, we see her interact with others and commit her crimes, all without remorse and all with survival in mind.
I appreciated how the author showed her sister struggling. We never want to believe the worst in those we love. We often wear rose colored glasses and are quick to make excuses for them. Because what would it mean if you loved a serial killer? What would that say about you? How do you reconcile the sibling you love with the psychopath in front of you?
A great deal of research went into the writing of this book and I loved the details and the portrayal of this real-life serial killer. I found this book to be well written, thought provoking and captivating. I read most of this book in one day as I did not want to put it down. I had never heard of Belle Gunness before and was fascinated by her life and story. She was a scary, violent, and devious woman. I thought the author did a good job blending facts with fiction.
Be sure to read the Author's Note at the end. Also, be sure to read this one if you are a true crime or psychological thriller fan.
Thank you to Berkley Publishing Group and NetGalley who provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All the thoughts and opinions are my own.
Rating: really liked it
Also called In the Garden of Spite.
This book is a blend of fact and fiction and is the story of serial killer Bella (Belle) Gunness who was born Brynhilder Paulsdotter Størset in Norway and was active in Illinois and Indiana. After a traumatic event and cruel treatment by landowner Anders, she exacts revenge and leaves Norway to join her sister Nellie in Chicago. From then on, she changes her name to Bella and becomes a very different person to the one who grew up in the land of her birth. The story is told in alternating perspectives by Belle and Nellie.
This is a well written novel, in places it’s vivid, the style is appropriate to the historical time period and it strikes the right tone. I like the two contrasting points of view as lovely Nellie gives us insights into Bella’s personality and Bella gives her own warped view of the world. Bella has big ambitions and shows her unpleasant side straight away by scoffing at Nellie and her lifestyle. The author shows how her rage against men builds (with some justification) and her calculating mind develops and she marries for what she can gain. This is a compelling insight and interesting exploration into the mind of a multiple murderer. Her thoughts are vicious, she always wants more and is never satisfied as is shown by the excess of food! Meeting James Lee is a turning point as two like minds feed off each other. It’s chilling how cold she is, how calculating and scheming and utterly without morality. I wonder as I read if she always had the capacity in her for evil or if she becomes this way through Anders horrific treatment of her, we will never know and can only speculate. However, her transformation to the angel of death accelerates following her move to La Porte when the killing becomes almost business like, it’s macabre and mind numbing especially as it seems to make her feel alive. She is beyond cold blooded, it is as if she has no heart at all in her callous wickedness and there are few things she will not stoop to.
My reservations lie in the length of the book as you become numbed by her actions and at times the pace is a bit slow. Perhaps less about the food would help!
Overall, this is a compelling read for the insights it gives into Hells Belle aka the Black Widow and her crime spree. The notes at the end are worth reading too.
Rating: liked it
I wanted to read this book based on the non-fiction 'true crimes' accounts of Belle Gunness. Speculation and embellishment about her crimes and motives are added to the story. I had read some previous accounts of her crimes and knew she is considered one of the most prolific female serial killers in American history. The number of her victims has been estimated at 40.
I expected this would be a disturbing, gory, horrific, and upsetting read, and it was all of that. What I didn't expect was how tedious I found the book, but I kept with it to the end.
Born in poverty in Norway, she was the victim of a cruel and unspeakable act, unproven, to explain her spiteful nature and murderous intent. On moving to the USA to start a new life, intending to raise above her childhood poverty, she married twice. Both husbands died painful deaths when she tired of them. She inherited their property, life insurance, and also insurance payouts from buildings she set afire.
Her second husband was a butcher wh taught her his trade. This came in handy after his death on bodies she dismembered before burying them on her farmland. She was excited and joyful at the sight and smell of blood, first from butchering farm animals and then her human victims. As the now wealthy owner of a large farm, her first victims were killed for their money and property, but later the killings were motivated by blood-lust. Numerous men came to court the wealthy widow, or to find employment working on the farm. These men vanished, often before breakfast the next day, robbed with any cash or property they brought with them, murdered, and buried.
Unable to bear children, the story adds a fictional criminal lover who brought to Belle unwanted babies. She raised them as her own. He also helped with her murderous enterprises and arson and encouraged her depravity. She exhibited affection and pleasure in her foster children who were a great help in the house and with farm chores. What happens to them is very tragic and heartbreaking.
The story is told from two perspectives, that of an added older sister, Nellie, and from Bella's thoughts and actions. I didn't feel that Nellie's viewpoint added much to the plot. She was in denial of rumors about strange happenings on the farm, felt legal investigations into Bella's crimes and insurance frauds were invalid, understood her bouts of anger, rationalized her suspicious behavior, and at the same time was living in fear for herself and future victims. Sometimes all these conflicting feelings were expressed on the same page. When the truth about Bell's shocking crimes could no longer be denied, Nellie refused to report what she knew to authorities due to family loyalty.
The ending was inconclusive. It ends with her death, but suspicion remains that she may have faked her death to start a new life elsewhere.
Rating: it was amazing
Could not, PUT. This. Down.
This book was nothing I expected but everything I anticipated. Deliciously dark, macabre, and so so hard to put down, this is truly a book I didn't even know I needed in my life until the I picked it up. From the very first chapter it seemed to put a spell on me and sucked me right into the very demented very disturbing mind of someone truly broken and I loved every single minute of it.
Of course the most fascinating part of this whole sordid tale is the very fact that..it's true. Embellishments aside, it really happened.
I loved all the author's notes and thoughts and the end and can't stress enough that they too should be read. This truly was a gruesome delight and I'm so glad I took a chance on it. I think anyone fascinated with the past, with killers, anyone wanting a good thriller and a heart pounding read, is absolutely going to love this.
*ARC provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*
Rating: really liked it
I thought I'd love this because I'm a fan of true crime (and because Belle is such a fascinating and terrible person) and I did really enjoy it but the author took a lot of creative liberties with the facts and that made it more of a 3.5 star kind of book for me. Still quite good though.
Rating: it was amazing
In the Garden of Spite tells the chilling tale of Belle Gunness also known as the Black Widow of LaPorte. Belle is considered to be one of the first female serial killers in America.
Growing up, Belle (fka Little Brynhild) wasn’t the angelic, picture perfect daughter of the St¢rset family. With a quick temper and spiteful tendencies, Belle’s anger causes her to be brutally beaten by Anders, the man that impregnated her. Shortly after Belle’s recuperation from her injuries, Anders mysteriously falls ill and eventually dies.
The bodies continue to grow in number even as Belle emigrates to America. A series of questionable unfortunate events, accidents, and illnesses plague Belle and her reputation.
Written in two points of view (Belle and her sister Nellie,) the author adeptly blends the two views into one cohesive novel. A compelling read, In the Garden of Spite is the consummate combination of historical fiction and true crime. It will leave you speechless. Five stars. Unforgettable.
I received a digital ARC from Berkley Publishing Group through NetGalley. The review herein is completely my own and contains my honest thoughts and opinions.
Rating: really liked it
Exploring the darker elements of the female experience—and in this case, the sociopathic murderous elements—makes for fascinating reading. This was a great work. But it could have been shorter.
Character portrayals: ★★★★★
Have you heard the story of the Widow of La Porte? Belle Gunness' reign as one of the most prolific female series killers in early 1900s America is a chilling (and true) tale.
Belle Gunness was born Brynhild Storset in Norway in the 1800s to a poor family of rural tenants. Her earliest years are spent with vicious nurture and violent nature, and an early sexual encounter gone extremely sour—the author's editorializing at work with this fact, as this encounter is rumored in Norway but not officially confirmed—leads to her first murder. Little Brynhild poisons her abuser and likes the feeling of power she gets.
Little Byrnhild doesn't do well in Norway. The villagers whisper about her and her pride chafes at the knowledge that everyone in her small town knows of her shame. She writes to her older sister, Nellie, in America and desperately asks for her to help her.
Nellie agrees to fund Brynhild's voyage to America and takes her under her wing in a Norwegian-American apartment community in Chicago. Brynhild becomes Bella. Bella's pride, greed, and need for control over the men in her life lead to some dark decisions... and her sister Nellie begins to suspect that something is not all right with her sister.
As the years go by, Bella's life seems to be marked by obvious tragedy. Her husbands and children just keep...dying. And her homes and businesses just keep... burning down. What's up with that? Eventually, Bella moves to rural Indiana and marries Peter Gunness, her new persona as Belle Gunness begins. And once Peter suffers a tragic accident with a meat grinder—or cleaver, depending on who you ask—what's a twice-made widow to do with a huge farm but create an ad asking for male farm hands to come and help her? It's not exactly her fault if all the men disappear in the night...
The black widow spider creates her wicked web...
Told in two points of view, one from Belle herself and one from her sister, Nellie, In the Garden of Spite takes us along for the ride as we silently witness Belle's entire life from girlhood to her bloody reign as Belle Gunness on her murder farm. It's a chilling tale meant to unsettle, and Camilla Bruce's mastery of ominous, distanced writing really sells the tension throughout this almost 500-page novel.
But bringing up the length of this book brings up my only caveat—it was pretty long. In the marketing, the focus is entirely on Belle's time in La Porte as a murdering farm widow. This seems to be a bit misleading and definitely affected how I viewed the pacing of the book. When you start a book expecting to read a novelization of the Widow of La Porte....and then it takes 380 pages to get to Belle's life as "Belle Gunness" in the first place... Honestly, it made the first 3/4 of the novel feel incredibly slow. I kept waiting for the "real" plot to happen and that took away from the experience of reading the characters' life stories.
I'd definitely recommend going into this knowing that you're getting a life's story and not a snapshot novelization or a glorified true crime fixation.
This is a personal and chilling character study of one woman's descent into the darkest levels of the human psyche and her lack of acceptance of her own darkness. It's also about the toll that life on her loved ones, and the knife's edge between loving and protecting your family versus realizing the monster in your family tree.
Definitely read the author's note at the end - it gives a lot of context for Belle's real life, the amount of research the author used, and a key list of artistic differences that the author decided to take on in order to explore the themes.
Thank you to Berkley, Goodreads, and NetGalley for my giveaway ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.
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Rating: it was amazing
5 of 5 stars at The BiblioSanctum https://bibliosanctum.com/2021/01/11/...
Last year, one of my favorite discoveries was Camilla Bruce’s You Let Me In, her debut that impressed me so much that I would read anything else she writes, sight unseen. Because of that, I was totally unprepared for what awaited me when I picked up In the Garden of Spite, her new novel about the most notorious female serial killer in American history.
Oh man, this book was so messed up. So brilliantly twisted. This nightmare-inducing historical is a fictionalized account of Belle Gunness, known as “the Black Widow of the Midwest” who is thought to have murdered at least fourteen and quite possibly up to forty people between the years of 1884 and 1908. But before she became a notorious killer, she was Brynhild Paulsdatter Storset, a young girl born into a family of poor farmhands in Selbu, Norway. In Bruce’s reconstruction of Brynhild’s backstory, our protagonist becomes pregnant at seventeen, but when she demands the father to marry her, the young man tries to kill her instead.
After she loses the baby in the attack, Brynhild makes plans to leave Norway and travel to America to stay with her older sister Nellie and her family in Chicago. But before her departure, Brynhild makes sure to get revenge by fatally poisoning her ex-lover, thus beginning her journey and lifelong obsession with spite. Once in Chicago, she changes her name to Belle, vowing to leave her old identity behind with her poverty-stricken life. Instead of helping Nellie with her children and work around their apartment, Belle sets her sights on finding a husband of means, eventually marrying Mads Sorensen, who was able to satisfy her expensive appetites—at least for a time. Once someone ceases to become useful to her, they have a tendency to drop dead, something her sister Nellie notices first with Mads and then with Belle’s second husband, Peter Gunness. They say blood is thicker than water, and to Nellie, Belle will always be “Little Brynhild,” a scared girl held in her arms. But as the body count rises, and Nellie’s suspicions grow stronger by the day, how long before her loyalty to her sister runs out?
What really got to me was how plausible this novel was, despite the author’s afterword explaining how she blended truth and fiction. Yes, there were a lot of embellishments, but a lot of it was rooted in fact too, integrating what is known about Belle Gunness and her heinous crimes. After reading this book, I went and did some reading of my own into her life, which gave me the heebie-jeebies all over again, but also an even greater appreciation for what Camilla Bruce achieved here.
Not surprisingly, the highlight of the book was her portrayal of Belle’s state of mind. Most monsters don’t feel that they’re monsters, but on some level, our protagonist does recognize something broken within her. Perhaps the most frightening aspect of her character is how she feels justified in being the monster, rationalizing her degeneracy and why she must do what she does. She is also ruthlessly persistent; once she puts her mind to a goal, there’s nothing anyone can do to stop her from achieving it. What’s even more complicated is the background Bruce has constructed for Belle, designed to establish sympathy—which worked to an extent. Eventually though, Belle’s thirst for blood—for spite—becomes simply too extreme, but of course by this point the story has become so fascinating that putting it down is impossible.
Still, even without any sympathy for Belle, I found myself incredulously reading on, addicted to her voice. She was so vile and chilling, and yet I was completely engrossed, wanting to know more. As she became increasingly emboldened, not just in committing murder but also in her cold calculating way of taking in children and fooling the world into believing they are her own, the depravity reaches a whole other level, not to mention the gruesomeness and violence. Only Nellie’s chapters, scattered among Belle’s, helped keep the terror manageable by injecting a bit of sanity into this disturbing read. That said, the story still remained a nerve-wracking head trip as Nellie realizes the depth of Belle’s hunger, agonizing over what to do because in spite of herself, she still loves her little sister.
Ultimately, In the Garden of Spite is an intensely compulsive read, comprising a sharp concoction of historical fiction, psychological thriller, and of course, horror. Certainly if the latter is what you are looking for, your cravings will be answered, though there’s also much here for fans of historicals and true crime. I highly recommend this book, as well as the audio format that I reviewed. Narrators Natalie Naudus and Stacey Glemboski performed the parts of Belle and Nellie perfectly, giving voice to all the complex emotions that made the characters in this book feel so incredibly, scarily real.
Rating: really liked it
How did they know exactly what I needed right now was historical fiction about an old-timey female serial killer???
Rating: really liked it
Special thanks to Netgalley and publisher for a copy to review.
This title is a challenging review as it is a historical thiller(?) I guess? Or historical fiction at any rate marketed as much a thriller as anything although there is graphic violence there is only intermittant action. Which is a long winded way of saying it was not a one sitting read by any means. This novel moved slow, which at times was frustrating even as the reader in me admired the skill with which camilla Bruce set the story. Fine details permeated the prose, and although it did not ever seem excessive or too wordy it did slow the plot down despite the beautiful careful prose.
So the biggest weakness may be pacing but the greatest strength in the writing is fictionalizing actual events and plotting a female serial killers story in a realistic and historically accurate setting.
The switching perspective between sisters was at times jarring and seemingly needless outside of narrative structure but overall this book was an entertaining and educational read., however it was little slower than I expected hence only 4 not 5 stars. But if you have any interest in say a reading a little house on the prairie as it would be on HBO as opposed to the PG version I say give this one a try.
Rating: really liked it
I’m a huge True Crime nerd. I’ve read of Belle Gunness so I knew what I was getting into with In the Garden of Spite; it’s ’s a blend of true facts & fiction. This is very much historical fiction with suspense & horror. Overall, I enjoyed it but I think this could’ve been so much better. This woman is pure evil and the character written is almost too likeable imo. I guess I’m saying this could’ve been darker but she didn’t really go there...
Rating: it was amazing
WHAT THE HECK DID I JUST READ?!?!?!?! My daughter just asked if I'm okay and the answer is NO! I'm definitely NOT okay!!!
"They never expected me to hold a grudge." Those words will haunt me for quite some time now.
I admit I've been fascinated by fictionalized stories of serial killers. Usually, they don't haunt me in my dreams and keep me up at night. But this... this... THIS has scarred my brain, I think. And (unfortunately) also caused me to want to learn more about the serial murderess Belle Gunness.
I literally lost count of how many bodies had dropped by the time I made it to the mid-point of this novel, but that's not what kept me reading. It was the way Belle was portrayed as yes, a killer, but also a victim whose compulsion to kill was deeply embedded as a way to protect herself and her children. I hated that I kept finding myself feeling just a teensy bit sad for her. And then she'd do something completely horrid and turn my stomach and I'd have to set my Kindle down and hold my babies super tight because.. UGH! This was horrible!!! (But in a good, super creepy, can't ever close my eyes or trust people again sorta way. )
Do I recommend this to fans of historical fiction who enjoy a good serial killer story? ABSOLUTELY!!! But make sure you're in a good head space before you pick this one up, because it WILL keep you up at night and send shivers down your spine!
Thank you to NetGalley and Berkley Publishing Group for providing me with an e-galley of this book in exchange for my honest review.
Rating: it was amazing
I enjoyed this book so much! So little is known about the why of the murders committed by Belle Gunness, but Camilla Bruce provides believable, compelling circumstances, though fiction, where you can see the creation of Belle unfold, without pulling any punches on the murders she committed. It is easy to both despise and feel incredibly sorry for Belle. I am happy to recommend this book.
Rating: liked it
I was intrigued by the book description and was looking for something a little different to the books I have being reading recently. I found the book a little slow at first and struggled to get into it but persevered and it did get a lot better. By the time I was two thirds into the book I didn't want it to finish.
Based on a true story the novel tells of Bella Sorensen killing spree as she thrives to live a comfortable life after starting life as a Norwegian immigrant. In a determination to live life to the full she doesn't let anything or anyone stand in her way.
Fascinating read with some very interesting characters.
I would like to thank both Netgalley and Penguin Michael Joseph for supplying a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.