Title: The Butterfly Garden
Author: Dot Hutchison
Genre: Fiction, Horror, Thriller
Publisher: Thomas & Mercer, June 1st 2016 (first published April 26th 2016)
In this garden grow luscious flowers, shady trees… and a collection of precious “butterflies”—young women who have been kidnapped and intricately tattooed to resemble their namesakes. Overseeing it all is the Gardener, a brutal, twisted man obsessed with capturing and preserving his lovely specimens.
When the garden is discovered, a survivor is brought in for questioning. FBI agents Victor Hanoverian and Brandon Eddison are tasked with piecing together one of the most stomach-churning cases of their careers. But the girl, known only as Maya, proves to be a puzzle herself.
As her story twists and turns, slowly shedding light on life in the Butterfly Garden, Maya reveals old grudges, new saviors, and horrific tales of a man who’d go to any length to hold beauty captive. But the more she shares, the more the agents have to wonder what she’s still hiding.
The Butterfly Garden is a book that promised a dark plot full of equal parts beauty and horror, and I was not disappointed. I was enthralled from page one and read the entire book over the course of a single day. I needed to know what happened to these girls called “butterflies.” I needed to know how they finally got away.
The thriller follows two FBI agents as they uncover the truth behind a crime scene they just discovered. The “Garden” is a prison that has housed kidnapped girls for decades, run by a man known only as the Gardener. One of the girls—dubbed Maya by the Gardener himself—gives them a horrific account of life in the Garden in a chillingly calm narration. I could tell right away that Maya was the perfect narrator. Cheeky, mysterious, and sympathetic, she tells her story in the way that had me hanging off every detail.
“During the day there was conversation and movement, sometimes games or songs, and it masked the sound of the pipes feeding water and nutrients through the beds, of the fans that circulated the air. At night, the creature that was the Garden peeled back its synthetic skin to show the skeleton beneath.”
This terrifying thriller is told in a perfect balance of ugliness and beauty that embodies the themes laced throughout. The prose was well-crafted and each character was thought-provoking. The straight-talking, spirited Bliss who never knows when to shut her mouth. Zara, who is mean to everyone and yet still claims our affection in the end. Lyonette, who is the mother hen to the other girls. Even aging Lorraine, who is so far gone that she craves love and approval from the Gardener. I felt apprehensive once I’d finished the book because I was worried about leaving these characters behind, almost like they wouldn’t be okay on their own without my watching over them to recover from the Garden.
“Some people stay broken. Some pick up the pieces and put them back together with all the sharp edges showing.”
If I was reviewing the first 75% of this novel, it would be a five star read for me. However, the last few scenes had me questioning the grip this story had over me. I respect how Hutchinson wanted to give her readers an unexpected twist, but a few of the explanations had me scratching my head. It was drinking a fine, expensive wine with a burger from McDonald’s.
Please note that this novel contains accounts of kidnapping, rape, pedophilia, serial murder, child molestation, and torture. Dot Hutchison does not shy away from these grotesque details, but it is so well-written and each character so well-crafted, it never felt deliberately sensational. If you like twisted, graphic character studies, this novel is for you.