I love historical fiction novels. I love seeing how the author takes reality and mixes it in with their fictional characters and ideas. Author Marjorie DeLuca’s use of the true horror story of the serial killer Mary Ann Cotton and blending it with the true horror of Clara’s abusive relationships not only makes for a strong plot, but a very heavy and dark, clever and truly wrenching horror novel. This plot does not feel like fiction, it feels real and hits real emotions. The friendship between Cotton and the fictional Clara makes so much sense and works so well within the novel that it is hard to see where the fiction and fact line is. Both women are desperate, troubled and damaged. The reasons are different, but we see a murderer and a victim bound together by their pain and loneliness. The plot is developed and well presented to make for a powerful book about freedom, pain, abuse and murder.
Mary Ann Cotton was executed for killing up to 21 people (Eight of her own children, seven stepchildren, her mother, three husbands, a lover – and an inconvenient friend). She was a monster and she was real. Mary Ann Cotton was terrifying person but as you read more about her back story in the Savage Instinct, you start to realize she is may not be the villain of the story. In this book DeLuca preferred to leave the questions about Cotton’s innocence open ended and we see the same human side of her that Clara sees. DeLuca creates characters with depth and layers that are so real that I felt actual sympathy and empathy mixed in with the horror and disgust of the crimes committed. Clara is not real, Mary Ann Cotton was, but DeLuca makes them both feel equally legitimate and equally alive.
Marjorie DeLuca shows off her writing skills in this book. She expertly blends fact and fiction and makes a horror novel that isn’t based on things that go bump in the night, but instead, real horror and tragedy. How subjects like abuse, gaslighting, death, and mental health are presented is so well done. There is no glorification of anything and everything feels very real. The book is not only an impressively creative idea, but how it is brought to life is powerful, heavy, and painfully realistic.
I have very little that I could say I would change in this novel. I do wish that Mary Ann Cotton had a little more page time. She is a vital character to the story and represented so well in the novel, I just wish that there would have been more of her.
DeLuca has written a masterpiece in the genre and brought her ideas to life in an impressive way. The Savage Instinct is not a feel-good story, it is very difficult and infuriating to read. However, it is also one of the most powerful books I have ever read. It is a book which will stay with me for a very, very long time and I recommend you go here and buy it now.
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