Book Review: The Butterfly Garden

This one was pretty good. It fell just short of really good, but still. It's the kind of book I wish I had written.

With this book, Dot Hutchison took an often-tired serial killer trope and transformed it into an unforgettable story. The premise of the book is that a wealthy eccentric (the Gardener) kidnaps young woman, tattoos them with butterfly wings, and keeps them in his private garden to pleasure him at his leisure. An over-the-top idea perhaps, but the execution was spot on.

Everything about this book drew me in. The idea is awesome. The structure is brilliant. Hutchison alternated points of view between the surviving Butterfly (Maya) and the FBI agent interviewing her (Victor). Maya's portions are told in first person past tense, and Victor's come in third person present tense. The alternating POVs and the gradual release of backstory created cliffhanger after cliffhanger and kept me turning the pages.

Our primary narrator, Maya, gets another thumbs up. She's the poster child for a messed-up family life, and she's got the skewed thought processes to show for it. The Gardener finds her no-bullshit attitude refreshing, and so did I as the reader. Her voice is distinct and engaging, and I'd be happy to read more of her character.

Where the story fell flat for me was the ending. We're set up to believe that Maya is hiding some big, dark secret, something that could actually make her complicit to the horrors of the Garden. Given Maya's gloomy past and flawed character, this is reasonably conceivable. But after the buildup to the story's climax and the reveal of what Maya was hiding, not only was I disappointed, but I started to see the rest of the story's cracks rather than seeing past them.

This is a big idea. An outlandish concept. Yet between Maya's character, the structure of the book, the pacing, and the author's sheer skill, I eagerly suspended disbelief to better immerse myself in this world. But once Maya's underwhelming secret was out, well... suddenly everything else seemed just that little bit more underwhelming, too. Just a little bit more preposterous. After hundreds of pages of excellent storytelling, Hutchison failed to deliver on the ending, and unfortunately in this case, the ending is what sticks with you. Three days later, I'm still kind of bummed about the reveal and the explanation given.

A story worth reading? Absolutely. Jump in and enjoy everything for what it is. Just don't hold your breath for Maya's secret.