Review: Triflers Need Not Apply by Camilla Bruce

 

Title: Triflers Need Not Apply

Author: Camilla Bruce

Published: 5th August 2021, Michael Joseph

Status: Read August 2021 courtesy Penguin UK/NetgalleyUK

++++++

 

My Thoughts:

 

Blending fact with fiction, author Camilla Bruce has been inspired by the life of Belle Gunness, born Brynhild Paulsdatter Storset, who was a Norwegian-American serial killer active in Illinois and Indiana between 1884 and 1908, in Triflers Need Not Apply (released in the US with the title ‘In the Garden of Spite’).

Bruce, who herself was born in Norway near the small town that was home to Brynhild, gives voice to a woman who stands accused of killing as many as 40 people, including two husbands, children in her care, and men she lured to her farm with a promise of marriage before killing them for their money.

Much of the narrative is presented from the first person perspective of Belle, it reveals a childhood and adolescence marred by grinding poverty, abuse, and a horrendous event. Desperate to escape, Brynhild reinvents herself as Bella when she joins her older sister, Nellie, who has settled in America, and sets out to find a respectable, monied husband. Though marriage to a churchgoing hotel clerk with a comfortable living pacifies Belle for a short while, her avarice cannot be sated, and he eventually becomes her first American victim.

In a testament to Bruce’s skilled writing, it’s uncomfortable to be in the mind of Belle, who is petulant, manipulative, cold and often cruel, harbouring a seething rage beneath her public veneer. Fury and spite was the driving force behind her several of the earlier murders, but those committed later in La Porte, were calculated, motivated by an insatiable greed. Many of the details Bruce fictionalises tries to provide context for Belle’s motives and behaviour. The narrative suggests she is a sociopath, but questions if she was born or made that way, and there is the implication of mental illness, as Belle imagines dirt and rot clinging to walls and objects in homes where her mood has soured.

The intermittent perspective of Bella’s sister, Nellie, provides additional insight to her character, though I thought her contribution to the narrative was often repetitive and hindered the pace of the story. Nellie, a quiet, pious, hard working woman whose wants are modest, loves her sister and feels guilty when she suspects Belle of various misdeeds, but it’s many years before she is able to face the truth of what her sister is capable of.

I felt the settings in the novel, from a Norwegian hovel, to a Chicago tenement, and a farm in Idaho, were well rendered, and the historical period represented accurately. It’s clear, and confirmed by the Author’s Notes, that Bruce undertook a great deal of  research and while there is plenty of invention in this novel, it feels grounded in truth and plausibility. There are some pacing issues, but the writing is of a high standard.

Triflers Need Not Apply has the potential to appeal to a wide audience, including those who enjoy crime and historical fiction, and the true crime genre. A disturbing, and darkly enthralling read.

+++++++

Available from Penguin UK

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8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. sherry fundin (@sherryfundin)
    Aug 13, 2021 @ 08:07:30

    oh yeah, this is my kind of read
    sherry @ fundinmental

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

  2. Linda Moore
    Aug 14, 2021 @ 00:57:41

    Ohh this sounds like a good one.
    Nice review.

    Like

    Reply

  3. WendyW
    Aug 14, 2021 @ 08:29:34

    This sounds facinating. I’m always interested in why serial killers kill.

    Like

    Reply

  4. Mystica
    Aug 14, 2021 @ 22:31:17

    I’m on the fence on this one. Thanks for the review as good to know what is out there.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

  5. Jennifer
    Aug 15, 2021 @ 12:16:49

    On my list! Thanks, Shelleyrae, for tempting me yet again …

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

  6. Trackback: It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? #SundayPost #SundaySalon | book'd out
  7. Tammy
    Aug 16, 2021 @ 04:17:59

    I loved this too. Belle was so disturbing but I was hooked anyway😁

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

  8. Tracey (Carpe Librum)
    Sep 25, 2021 @ 23:33:08

    Great review, this is such an interesting case.

    Like

    Reply

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