Review: In the Garden of Spite by Camilla Bruce

A story about a female serial killer? Say no more. This book was on my radar for weeks and I couldn’t wait to start reading it. It sounded deliciously dark and creepy with so much promise. My book club picked this one to read for our February book because it sounded so amazing.

I was fully ready for this book to be on the darker side. In fact I expected it to be one of my more darker reads with a lot of nuance and atmosphere. On the surface this book was primed to be one of my favorite reads of 2021 and I couldn’t wait to start reading this one. And then I did start reading it and I don’t know that I was fully prepared for how dark this novel was going to get.

Full disclosure, I didn’t finish this one. I simply couldn’t. It wasn’t for me and it also wasn’t for any of the ladies in my book club (we switched to another book for February) but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t read this one. I think this is a book that would appeal to a certain type of reader rather than the masses.


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. (summary from Goodreads)


The second I started reading this one it was very apparent this was not going to be a book for me. I had just come off this whole string of historical romances with happy fluff and HEA, so I was willing to keep reading this one just in case I was tainted by this fact, but the more I read the more I was sure this just wasn’t the novel for me.

I expected this one to be gritty and dark, but I didn’t expect it to be gross. Since I only read 15%, I don’t consider this a spoiler. In the beginning, the heroine finds herself pregnant and the guy who got her pregnant basically beat the baby out of her. The author graphically describes her attack and the loss of the baby, likening it to a piece of meat. It was just too much for me and since this happens at the beginning of the book, it just turned me off entirely. The rest of what I read was about her recovering from her injuries and setting up for how this attack would impact her future decisions.

Her parents were basically poor alcoholics and they were not nurturing at all, in fact they were down right abusive. I would be willing to look past all of these parts if there was some sort of redeeming quality about the heroine. I mean I get that she was a serial killer and obviously it would be unlikely that she would have a redeeming quality, but there was simply nothing about her I liked. Initially I felt horrible that this terrible thing happened to her, but the more I read I just couldn’t muster any sympathy.

While this book was definitely not for me, I still think the concept shows promise and I think that this would appeal to the right reader. Perhaps someone who enjoys darker, grittier reads. I also thought that some of the observations of the characters showed a strong sense of awareness, for example there was a closing line in a chapter where the attacker said something to the effect of ‘you are nothing but vermin’ and when the chapter closes the main character says that she will survive because the vermin always survive. I admired the author’s boldness and awareness/insight for her characters even if this one wasn’t for me.

Even if I didn’t like it, you might. If I were you, I would download a sample and see if you like it before you buy it because I think this is a book that you will be able to tell if you like it or not right away.

Book Info and Rating

Hardcover, 480 pages

Published January 19th 2021 by Berkley

ISBN0593102568 (ISBN13: 9780593102565)

Free review copy provided by publisher, Berkley, in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own and in no way influenced.

Rating: DNF 1 star

Genre: historical fiction, thriller, mystery


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