Hello everyone and welcome to a brand new edition of Lil Red’s Book Club! The last book that I read was a massive dud and I was desperate for something good to read. I am so happy that I found it in Camilla Bruce’s All The Blood We Share because it was excellent. All The Blood We Share is a novel about the Bloody Bender family in Kansas. While it is loosely based on some facts and legends, it is a work of fiction retelling the story of America’s first serial killer family. Obviously, before we begin our no spoilers review, I will be placing a huge trigger warning on this book for gruesome violence and highly disturbing content. Think you can handle it? Then, let’s get to it:
All The Blood We Share takes place in the 1870s and we begin our tale with Ma Bender and her daughter, Kate, westward bound to meet Pa and step sibling, John, in Kansas. This wasn’t for a change of scenery, but to flee from crimes that they may or may not have committed in Pennsylvania and Indiana. Pa and John arrived in Kansas first to begin building a small home that would double as a roadside inn and grocery store. Of course, Ma and Kate weren’t expecting to arrive to their new digs and be in the lap of luxury, but they were certainly taken aback when their new property was little more than a shack.
At first, the Benders are keen on laying low where they settled and want to portray themselves as upstanding citizens. They form a partnership at the town’s trading post to stock their grocery store and their inn is open for business for weary travelers to have a meal and rest. For a while, things are going well despite their meager earnings and their confidence grows that no one would suspect the Bender family of crimes done across the country. As far as they are concerned, they are home free and with that new sense of freedom comes restlessness.
In this retelling, Kate is described as the ringleader of the Bender Circus with an unquenchable blood lust. She is a beautiful young woman who is bold and brash and has her sights set on the stage for her fraudulent performance as a medium. Kate describes the urge to shed blood as the “darkness” and it wasn’t long before it began to rear its ugly head. After being confined to a shack with her elderly parents and jealous stepbrother in Kansas’s extreme temperatures, the darkness occupies her mind at full force and a plan begins to form.
All of the Benders are eager to make more money and would like to see themselves out of Kansas even though they only recently arrived. However, their earnings from the inn and Kate’s work as a hotel maid would hardly allow them to travel and purchase property. While they are poor, the men traveling the road and looking for a place to stay might not be. Kate claims that the angels she is in touch with will mark the men with full pockets and it is those men whose lives they will claim. After all, the road is a dangerous place and it is not uncommon for people to meet a terrible fate. A murder at an inn was unheard of, but going missing while traveling was plausible if not probable and it gave the Benders the perfect cover.
Within the next year and change, the Benders would continue to run their business and kill and rob marked men. The first bodies the Bender men disposed of were off of their property and when they were found, it sent the whole town into a tizzy. Clever Kate used her work as a medium to steer people in a different direction and when she would “speak” to the dead men, she would say that their lives were taken by a stranger to the land. This reassured the villagers and with all eyes off of the Benders, they felt safe enough to continue killing. They would be more careful with the bodies, though, and they were buried in the orchard on their land.
As their spree went on, Pa and Ma Bender would become poorly and John would go into fits of rage when Kate was with another man. They were desperate to get out of Kansas and Pa was convinced that “one more man” would give them the money they needed to leave. The last man was the wrong one. One of their final kills in Kansas was a doctor whose brother was a colonel. After not hearing word from his brother for some time, the colonel began a search party which would result in all of the properties being looked over with a fine toothed comb.
The decision for the search party came from a town hall meeting, where it was suggested that the killer might be one of their own. All of the property owners were there, including Pa and John. Knowing that they didn’t have long before the law would begin snooping, they rushed home and made a hasty getaway. By the time their property was searched, the Benders were long gone when the bodies were found. Legend says that they never got caught. Others say that they were taken care of via pioneer justice. No one knows. What do you think became of the Bloody Bender family? Read All The Blood We Share and draw your own conclusions!
When you read about the Bloody Bender family, there are few stone cold facts and a lot of rumors. What every story does agree on is the way that the people were killed and how they were disposed. There were so many unknowns, though. There were claims of witchcraft, claims of affairs between Kate and village men, and claims that John wasn’t her stepbrother at all but husband. What every person who reads about them can all agree on is that they were messed up!
Although All The Blood We Share was a fictional work about the Bender family, it was a fascinating read nonetheless. The story was told from the perspective of Kate, Ma Bender, and a village boy named Hanson in alternating chapters. Between the three interweaving tales, a clear picture is painted of not only the Bender family but the way they instilled fear across the whole town. The Benders were a cunning bunch and while they might not have been everyone’s cup of tea, it took a long time before they were even suspected. In this retelling, Kate was much to thank for that through her beauty, charm, and having the spirits on her side.
All The Blood We Share did start out a bit slow to set the stage of the grisly murders, but when it picked up it skyrocketed. Within fifty pages of the 370 page book, I could not put it down to save my own life and finished it in four sittings. What made this book special was the fact that there are hardly any facts about the Benders. Camilla Bruce was able to take these legends and lore and turn it into an actual story. As I read, I had to keep reminding myself that it was a fictional work but who’s to say that Bruce didn’t get some parts right? You just don’t know! It was a thought provoking read and when I finished it, all I wanted was to know the truth. You won’t get answers from All The Blood We Share, but you will get a highly entertaining read that any true crime fan will enjoy.
I am going to award All The Blood We Share with an eight out of ten stars. I am a huge fan of Camilla Bruce’s creative writing and imagination and would very much like to read her acclaimed In the Garden of Spite soon!
What are you currently reading? What should I read next? I want to hear from all of you, so leave me a comment and let’s chat! Much love. -Sarah