I found this book, by Camilla Bruce about Belle Gunnes, and published by Penguin Michael Joseph on the 5th August, in the True Crime section of Netgalley, and loving a bit of Victoriana I immediately requested it. So I was a little suprised when I finally downloaded it to my kindle to find out that really, it is fiction. Or to be more accurate a fictionalised account of real events.
When it comes to real crime and real killers I have a particular aversion to fiction narratives in the first of third person which proscribe specifc thoughts and feelings to killers, when we have no real idea what they were feeling and thinking. However the further back in time we go, the less living family or victims, the more my qualms recead. However I am still uncomfortable ascribing this as true crime, as it is neither a forensic examination of the crime of Belle Gunness, or a first person account by those involved with either the crimes, victims or witnesses.
What is essentially a technical marketing issue should not stop you enjoying what is an intreguing read. Female serial killers are so rarely put front and centre of narrative and their male counterparts almost always gain a much larger name recognition and noteriaty. Yet, when we look at the evidence over time it’s likely that women have been just, if not more prolific in their voilence. A combination of using methods which have been more difficult to detect and less showy, such as posoin, combined with cultural taboo’s that still exist around women, caring and motherhood which mean their violence can often not be contemplated, very weirdly leads me to conclude this is yet another area in which women’s contributions have been overlooked. And as pshycologist Anna Motz says, when we deny women’s violence, we deny women. It is my belief that unless we recognise women fully, including the pshycopaths, the narcissists, the abusers and the killers, not just those who kill in reataliation to domestic abuse, and treat them as we treat those aberations in maleness i.e. in no way a signifier of the gender as a whole, then we cannot be truely feminist.
Triflers Need Not Apply is another step in recognising the contribution to women in crime, both the good and the bad, which crime fiction writers have been trying to redress for years, but has continued at a slower pace in the realm of true crime. The large amount of backlash Hallie Rubenhold faced for her seminal book The Five, shows that we do have further to go. Bruce has managed an admirable balancing in a narrative which could have tipped into being too gorey, too grim, and too salacious, but her restraint as well as her deep curiosity about Gunnes reminds us that at the end of the day, a pshycopath is a pshycopath, no matter what body they were born to.