All the Blood We Share by Camilla Bruce
First line: When we departed the train on that January morning, all I could see was a bleak sky stretching out in every direction.
Summary: Based on the true story of the serial killing family, the Bloody Benders of Kansas. The Bender family has recently moved to the prairie town of Cherryvale where they have opened a small inn for travelers. The town seems to accept the family, especially Kate who uses her skills as a medium to help believers get in touch with their loved ones beyond the veil. However, a few bodies are found along the creek and others have been reported missing. It seems that there may be a band of thieves killing travelers…or is there? How much does the town of Cherryvale know about their newest residents?
My Thoughts: I had heard the name “Bloody Benders” but I really had no idea their crime spree on the prairie. From the beginning I was hooked. This book is a wonderful example of an atmospheric novel. As a Kansan, I’ve traveled over the open expanses of the state and can easily picture what life alone on the prairie must have been like during the time of the Benders. It sets the stage for the dramatic story that unfolds.
The story is told through three different narrators; Hanson, Elvira and Kate. Hanson is the young orphan who lives and works at a neighboring farm who befriends the Bender family. Elvira is the matriarch of the Bender family. She is conflicted about the events on the farm but doesn’t shy away from the rewards of the family’s deeds. And Kate, a self-proclaimed medium who uses her brains and beauty to charm everyone around her. Even though Kate Bender is the dark villainess of the story at times I found it hard to not like her. She was smart, resourceful and charming but with a darkness in her soul.
I really disliked the men of the family. William, the father, believed in Kate’s “visions” and was easily led by the women in his life. John, Kate’s step-brother, is obsessed with her and grows angry when she spends time with any of the men who crossed her path.
As I started reading I had to do a little research about the Benders. I was shocked by the murders but also by the lack of information about the family. Nothing is known about them before arriving in Kansas, it is not even known if these were their real names, but Camilla Bruce does a great job of building a backstory that shows a string of similar activities. And then Bruce gives a possible ending to their story. But since no traces of the Benders were ever found, no one will ever know. Theories abounded at the time about their whereabouts and/or deaths but nothing was ever verified. The author took a story with the barest of details and created a novel that is just as bloody as the real events.
After finishing the novel I went on Newspapers.com and searched for articles about the Bender family in the Wichita papers. It is fascinating to see actual articles about the murders in Cherryvale. It makes the history of it even more real. I wonder if it’s something my ancestors discussed as they read the unfolding story in their local papers.