There is a lot to like in The Butterfly Garden by Dot Hutchison. I first liked the simplicity yet expressiveness of the cover (at least in the Kindle selection I read.) There is a butterfly, the novel’s name, and the author’s name. There are no blaring font announcements that this is a thrilling psychological thriller (that will leave you gasping). No promises that it is a page-turner. Just a good presentation. But it is one of the best psychological thrillers I have read. There are surprises; it will leave a reader turning pages quickly and it will appeal to fans of a TV series “Lie to Me.”
The setting of the novel is in an interrogation room, although the questioners would shy away from the term “interrogation.” But that was what was taking place and naming it as anything else would not fool Maya. Special Agent Brandon Eddison and Special Agent in Charge Victor Hanoverian were skilled investigators of crimes committed against children. Maya was a few years shy of twenty-one, but she was streetwise and somewhat amused by the questioning techniques employed by the two FBI agents. After all, they didn’t even know her name. At least they knew her name wasn’t Maya and she intended to play the game out until she decided she wanted to provide her real name.
Maya is the central figure in a harem of butterflies created by The Gardener. A rich businessman, he was able to construct a private, fortified garden in which he could indulge his fantasies. Although they had a sexual component, his actual fantasy was that he was saving girls from the street and the hard lives they would have had to lead to survive. The Gardener and his son Avery would kidnap girls that The Gardener would think at risk. They would select girls no younger than sixteen and could be any age up to twenty-one. Older was not better because when a girl reached her twenty-first birthday, she was killed, embalmed, and displayed in containers filled with a resin that kept the body on display. There were many containers that attested to the success of The Gardener’s project.
Why butterflies? The gardener liked butterflies; he studied them. After kidnapping a girl, The Gardener selected a butterfly and tattooed its likeness on the shoulders and back of the kidnap victim. Having sex after tattooing each girl finalized his possession ritual. The girls were then free to live in his garden, complete with waterfall, a library and an abundance of plants and trees, until they were twenty-one when they would be expected to join previous butterflies on display. Once a girl was killed, The Gardener would search for a replacement so that the living butterfly collection remained at about twenty-three.
This size of the confined population gives the author lots of room for character development and Hutchison does this skillfully. Characters are developed well through their behaviors as near familial relationships are developed and broken. With these many characters, it would be easy for an author to give each one a one or two-line description and move on. Hutchison does not do this as characters appear, seem to go away, and then reappear with a valuable contribution to the story. There are inferences and implications seemingly made by characters, but all done through the filter of Maya’s memories. She exposes each character as much or as little as she wants. Characters “speak” through her. And she has an agenda; she will protect the identity of Maya.
Opposing Maya are two FBI agents. Eddison comes off as the heavy, the bad cop, the unintelligent one that Maya has fun manipulating. Maya has realized that Victor Hanoverian might be her equal. She needs to protect her identity until a certain event comes to pass. And she is the only one who knows what the event is. The dialogue between the agents and Maya comes across as very cerebral. The agents had training, but Maya grew up with street survival skills.
I do not believe that anyone can predict this ending. What happened to specific girls? Who is The Gardener? What life does he have outside the Garden? Is there any way to escape? The answers to a lot of these questions are answered throughout the novel. But for the big questions, Maya’s identity and Maya’s agenda, you must read the entire novel.
The novel’s subject will be difficult for some readers. This is about young girls in captivity being tortured and sexually abused by one or more pedophiles. Knowing the subject, is a warning necessary?
This is a good psychological thriller. I gave this five Amazon stars and look forward to reading more Dot Hutchison books.