In the Garden of Spite by Camilla Bruce

Hello Readers! How is your reading year going so far? Have you already picked up a favorite book of the year? I don’t know that I’ve found a favorite of the year so far, but I have read a few books that I’ve really enjoyed already. One of those books is the title I’m reviewing today. It’s the second book from Norwegian author Camilla Bruce. I haven’t read her first title, but I’m definitely more likely to pick it up after finishing this one. In the Garden of Spite is out now and it is a dark story of revenge and blood lust. It won’t be for everyone, but if you like dark true crime, I think this will appeal to you.

Title: In The Garden of Spite

Author: Camilla Bruce

Author website: https://camillabruce.com/about/

Publisher: Berkley

Publish date: 01/19/2021

ISBN: 9780593102565

Buy the Book: Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Bookshop.org

Summary:

The story follows Belle Gunness, a woman who goes by several names before all is said and done. We follow Belle/Bella/Brynhild from her early days in Norway. Belle leads a tough life as a clever girl in a time and place where clever girls are not considered valuable. In an effort to better her life circumstances she makes some questionable decisions and some dangerous enemies. Her plans go horribly wrong and she is savagely beaten as a result. This story is not for the feint of heart.

In an effort to escape her past in Norway, Belle writes to her sister Nellie, who has emigrated to the United States to ask for help. Nellie and her husband set aside a little money and send it to Belle who combines it with her own savings in order to afford passage to America. The whole thing takes time though, and Belle is living in a village filled with people who are unkind, and at least one person who tried to kill her. Belle goes through her life there, working hard, but never forgetting what was done to her. She will eventually get revenge on the man who attacked her, and the crux of her character for the rest of the book is born in that moment.

There are times, especially after Belle arrives in America and begins the process of rebuilding her life, that the reader can sympathize with her and root for her success in starting over…but this isn’t that type of story. The roots of her rage run so deep, that even when things start to look up she finds herself losing control of each situation in a manner that she can’t accept.


This is a story of blood lust and of the rage of one clever woman. The story is told from Belle’s perspective, but also from the perspective of her sister Nellie. Initially, Nellie thinks the best of her sister and just wants to protect her, but she slowly comes to realize exactly what kind of person her sister is and just how unforgivable her crimes are. I really appreciated Nellie’s perspective on things, because I think the reader could easily get sucked in to Belle’s logic for all of the decisions that she makes and could almost start to ignore the depravity of what she is doing.

Belle Gunness was a real person and she really committed the atrocious crimes that are detailed in this story, for the most part. The author reveals in her Author’s Note at the end that many parts of Belle’s life are unknown, including the motivation that led to her actions and how her life ended. Bruce explains the creative decisions that she made when she went to tell Gunness’ story, and I think the care with which she made those decisions shows clearly in the writing. Nellie’s character reminds us again and again that Belle was once a mistreated child, and later in the book, when things get really dark, Nellie reminds us that Belle has suffered an unimaginably horrific attack that is bound to have changed her psyche.

This is a very dark book, but it was an engaging story.

Why I liked it:

This novel presents feminine rage in a clear and concise manner. As the reader, you won’t be tempted to forgive Belle’s actions, but you will understand what led her to that moment. She’s not a sympathetic character, but so much of her life is a reaction to the incident from her early years in Norway that I did not forget her humanity despite all of the gore.

What I would like to change:

There was a point, particularly after we arrived in La Porte, Indiana, where the plot began to feel very repetitive and where Belle’s character stopped achieving any sort of growth. I know that it served the purpose of illustrating just how unchecked her crimes were at that time, but it did get a little tedious from the reading perspective.

Disclaimer: I received an e-galley of this title from the publisher via NetGalley with the expectation of an honest review.

My library rating: This is a dark book…like really dark. It has violence, gore, sexual assault, the death of children, domestic violence. That’s a lot of trigger warnings and many people would not be comfortable reading about those situations. I would probably be comfortable recommending this one to readers who like dark true crime and horror.

1 glass of lemonade= a book that can only be recommended to someone whose reading taste you know well, like a best friend.  There may be a fair amount of curse words, spicy sex scenes, or potentially morally repugnant behavior.  This does not mean that the book is bad, just that the audience might be a little more limited.

My personal preference rating: I gave this title 4 stars. I don’t mind the darkness and the gore and I really loved that this was based on a true story. The author’s note at the end added information about the real Belle Gunness, which I appreciated.

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