The Truth About Belle Gunness, A Reaction

I don’t know if this is going to be a review or not. It’s 11:30 and I have to be up at 7. But I alluded to this book in my last post, so I figured I should update y’all.

I finished it. I’m trying to enumerate exactly why I found this so . . . ungripping. First the truly offensive thing. Elizabeth Smith, an African-American woman, is sort of a sideline character. And every damn time, de la Torre refers to Smith as “(N-word) Liz.” Granted, the book was originally written in 1955, and the past is a different country and all, but still. God gave us editors so that we could fix stuff like that. Just globally search-and-replace that string with “Smith.” I mean, that was her name, and we don’t see another Smith until the trial, where Smith is the surname of the prosecutor, or something. Argh.

There’s a reason why Twain chose that word in Huckleberry Finn and I understand the pushback on changing it. But The Truth About Belle Gunness is not a classic of American literature. It’s not even a classic of the true crime genre. I think that this time it should be possible to engage in a little judicious editing.

Speaking of the trial. Well, I wasn’t really expecting a book on a female serial killer to turn out to be a book on the man accused of killing her. That’s what this turned out to be. The Truth About Belle Gunness is actually the story of Ray Lamphere, former handyman and sex partner of the killer who was accused of killing her and her children and then setting fire to their house. The middle section is basically just trial transcripts rewritten so that they look like dialogue.

Additionally, there is some question about whether the body of the woman was Gunness at all. The body of the woman was found without a head and no head was ever found. Some time later, they found Gunness’s teeth in the ashes, which was apparently enough for the authorities to identify the body as Gunness. The book ends with de la Torre’s supposition on what actually happened. It’s an interesting theory, but she doesn’t back it up with any kind of evidence.

Speaking of editing, I’m not going to have any time to do any here, because I have to be up in a minute.

I’m going to end this with a Gratuitous Amazon Link to a real classic of the true crime genre, The Stranger Beside Me, by Ann Rule. This took me a while because all of the paper copies I could find were so expensive. So I ended up linking to the Kindle version.

What will be my next book? Looks like Kara Cooney’s The Woman Who Would Be King. I have so many books to read. So. Many. Books.

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