Several months ago, I chose Dot Hutchison’s The Butterfly Garden as my Kindle First novel, and I do not regret it. As always, I feel it is my duty as a fan of such dark things to alert potential readers to things that I find within a book, movie, or series to content that may be sensitive. Given my preferred genre, that encompasses a lot of what I read; however, even I am not immune, as I expressed in my review of Gone Girl to adverse reactions to a situation in a story. That said, The Butterfly Garden is heavily centered on rape, murder, and the psychological condition known as Stockholm Syndrome. The victims are young women, ranging in age from sixteen years to twenty-one years old. If this sort of material is likely to give cause for emotional upheaval, I do not recommend this book; however, Hutchison’s work is a wonderful read nonetheless.
At first glance, the main character, who goes by the name of Maya, seems to be an unreliable narrator. Given the circumstances under which she falls into police custody, her lack of desire to answer questions strikes me as weird. It isn’t until later, when more of the story has unfolded, that I began to understand why Maya behaves the way she does. What the reader learns is not that Maya is a difficult, troublesome, and uncooperative sort, but quite the opposite. She is a character with many layers, and each action is made with careful deliberation not for her own well-being, but for that of the other girls that are rescued with her: the butterflies. In addition to Maya, the reader is introduced to a wide cast of characters, in which there are so many different personalities that are so well-drawn out that it is easier for the reader to become attached to them: Hutchison undoubtedly knows how to create engaging and memorable characters. She also knows how to write characters that will fill her readers with loathing.
The plot is like something you might expect to see on Criminal Minds or Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, and undoubtedly piqued my interest largely for that reason. In this case, girls go missing and find themselves trapped in The Garden, where they are forced to submit to The Gardener, a disturbingly cruel man with a dark obsession with beauty and youth. His obsession is so far gone, in fact, that upon the twenty-first birthdays of the girls he kidnaps, he kills them and encases them in resin before putting them on display so that their tattoos, “gifted” to them upon their capture, are placed on display. It is, undoubtedly, a gruesome crime and as we read, we watch relationships form between the butterflies that transcend their predicament. The girls find ways to cope, rather than allow themselves to be torn down.
My only major complaint with this book is the way in which it is written. Alternating points of view don’t typically throw me off; however, the constant switching of tenses not only vexes me, but also has the potential of turning me away as a reader. In this case, the interviews in police custody are told in present tense, while the happenings within the Garden are told in the past tense. Logically, this makes sense, for the interview is currently taking place and the captivity of the butterflies was prior to this moment in time. On the other hand, switching so often disrupts the flow of the words to the point that at times, I actually had to reread the first few lines after the change to make sure I was comprehending it properly and that my “reading mind” was in the right place, so to speak.
Overall, I’d definitely recommend The Butterfly Garden for fans of crime drama, especially those with a thicker stomach.