Book Review: How to Kill Your Family by Bella Mackie

I received a free copy of the audiobook of ‘How to Kill Your Family’ from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review, so thank you NetGalley! Unfortunately, my request was granted on the day of publication, so it’s a little late.

‘How to Kill Your Family’ is less alarming than it sounds, but it’s still a darkly comic first-person narrative from the point of view of a young woman named Grace Bernard, who’s in prison for a crime she didn’t commit. Which is ironic, as she actually did murder six people as part of a cunningly executed revenge scheme. I say it’s less alarming than you’d think as, despite being her blood relatives, they’re not really her family, since she had no relationship with any of them prior to their murders. Grace is the illegitimate daughter of Simon Artemis, a super-rich but morally-bankrupt fashion mogul who abandoned Grace’s mother (and Grace) without a penny, leaving them to live in abject poverty. Following her mother’s death, teenaged Grace vowed revenge, and this book is her prison diary, detailing how she planned and executed each murder and how and why she ended up in prison unjustly.

Bella Mackie is a cracking storyteller and Grace is a compelling, witty and likeable protagonist, despite technically being a serial killer. That’s important, as it would be hard to enjoy the book if Grace wasn’t a fun character to spend time with. Luckily, she is, though I’m fairly sure she’s a sociopath. But she’s charming and her backstory is genuinely sad and she shows hints of vulnerability often enough to win the reader’s sympathy. Of course, it probably helps that all bar one of her victims are selfish, entitled hate sinks. And Grace is funny, always dropping shrewd observations about, say, predatory men, the super-wealthy and well-to-do hypocrites. It does make for satisfying reading, watching her get the better of people (mostly men) who underestimate her. Of course, the whole premise is intriguing. Grace keeps you hanging on her every word (Charly Clive does a great job narrating, by the way), building suspense and teasing details as she switches between her present in prison, the actual murders, her childhood and teenage years and the events that led up to her imprisonment. You’ll almost certainly end up rooting for her, in any event, as she carries out each step of her meticulous plan.

Which brings me to by one reservation about this book. Given how clever Grace clearly is, why would she write a prison diary? Especially as she has a cell-mate? I guess you could attribute it to the sociopathic arrogance/hubris of a killer, but it does seem odd, since Grace managed to resist this vice while actually carrying out her plan. This niggle and a certain twist at the end put my nose out of joint, though kudos to Mackie for pulling off something so unexpected. Still, it bothered me. Doesn’t the big twist undermine Grace’s whole character and arc, as well as the book’s theme of smart women outwitting arrogant victims? (Though the postscript kind of saves the latter.) I’ll also say, I wasn’t a fan of Harry. As such, I’d rate it 4.5/5 stars. Though I’d definitely recommend it, as long as you’re not sensitive about murder.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Alternate Title: My Sister the Serial Killer

Best Line:

Genuinely disturbing that insight into his mind. His willingness to punish a girl for not immediately embracing a photo of his dick, and I say that as someone who has killed five people.

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