Audiobook Review: All The Blood We Share by Camilla Bruce
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 4 of 5 stars
Genre: Historical Fiction, Horror
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Penguin Audio (November 22, 2022)
Length: 11 hrs and 11 mins
Narrators: Teri Clark Linden, Cindy Piller, Michael Crouch
Thank you, Camilla Bruce, for once again introducing me to a gruesome piece of American history with All the Blood We Share, a novel based on the Bloody Benders. This family of serial killers purportedly killed more a dozen travelers while operating a general store and inn on the Kansas frontier from 1871 to 1872, and to this day their fate remains unknown. Combining real events with ideas from her own imagination, Bruce’s latest historical horror drama offers up a riveting take on what could have really happened.
As the story opens, Kate Bender and her mother Elvira are in the middle of making the long dusty journey from their old farm in Pennsylvania to their new homestead on the Kansas prairie. Things are tense between the two women, though at this point all we know is that they are fleeing from the law. Elvira clearly blames Kate for putting them into this situation, but the younger woman only sees opportunity. An aspiring spiritualist, Kate has big dreams of making a name for herself as a famous clairvoyant and isn’t about to let this latest hiccup in their lives—or her mother’s harping—derail her ambitions.
Meanwhile, at their destination in Cherryvale, Kate’s stepfather William Bender and his son John are preparing their newly staked property and getting it ready to receive the women. Unbeknownst to Elvira, who only wishes to lie low, her husband has other plans, fixing up their home to take in some money as a traveler’s rest stop and lodging. At a nearby trading post, a young boy named Hanson observes all of this activity and offers the Benders some help in getting their business set up, forming an even stronger bond with the family once Kate and Elvira arrive.
But getting established on the frontier takes time and money, and the Benders are getting impatient. Soon, lone travelers passing through Cherryvale start going missing, causing dark rumors about the Benders to circulate amongst the townsfolk. Never one to keep a low profile though, Kate remains intent on making waves and seeking fame, to the consternation of her mother who is doing her best to hold the family together even as their bloodlust rages on.
Much like how the author’s previous novel Witch in the Well was more akin to the paranormal horror stylings of her book You Let Me In, this one was more in keeping with the genre traditions and tone of her other historical novel about a notorious serial killer, In the Garden of Spite. So if you enjoyed that book, there is a strong chance you will like this one too. As well, I’ve come to the realization that I love the way Bruce writes her killer women; their personalities are just so strong and powerful, yet also so diabolical and completely insane! While much of the story unfolds though the eyes of Kate, Elvira, and Hanson, it is the first’s devious and deliciously unreliable POV that really stole the spotlight. Kate has a clear vision of the future all planned out for herself, and she’s not beneath lying, cheating, manipulating, or even killing to get what she wants. Woe to anyone who dares stand in her way.
On a wider and more general scope, All the Blood We Share is also about family ties, as the title suggests. The Benders have a saying: “We take care of our own.” Even as Kate chafes against her mother’s disapproving gaze, she’s aware she can never escape the blood ties that bind them. Historically, we know the Benders committed a number of heinous murders together, some of which were portrayed in this book in vivid, grisly detail. Hence, while this might not be classified as horror in the traditional sense, there are enough of these uncomfortable, distressing sequences that if you are a reader with a weak stomach, you might want to reconsider picking this up.
Additionally, knowing that Bruce had to work around true events while still managing to work in her own flare and ideas makes this novel even more impressive. The setting too was convincing and intensely atmospheric, evoking the old west vibe. Even though it is a mystery what ultimately happened to the Bloody Benders, the book also delivered an ending that was surprising yet still realistic and satisfying. If you have a penchant for historicals—especially historical crime fiction—you will definitely want to read All the Blood We Share.
Audiobook Comments: A great listen with fantastic performances by the narrators who brought the characters to life, especially Kate and Hanson.