Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Butterfly Garden

Literature has given us some of the scariest monsters imaginable, conjured from our deepest and darkest fears; Dracula, Frankenstein, and Pennywise (It), to name but a few. In truth though, the scariest monsters to fear are those of the human-variety; those that hide their depravity and twisted souls behind smiling masks of normalcy and benevolence. The best psychological thrillers are those that can harness that truth, like The Silence of the Lambs, and give us riveting drama, heart-pounding suspense, and at times gut-churning fear all in the comfort and safety of our own home. The Butterfly Garden by Dot Hutchison does a darn good job of giving us one such new monster, the Gardener, to add to that lore.

From the publisher: “Near an isolated mansion lies a beautiful garden. 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…”

This was a great yet unsettling read; dark, twisted, and chilling in its depiction of one person’s capacity for evil; definitely not for the faint of heart. The reader learns the truth of this sinister tale through the at times cold and detached interrogation answers provided by the novel’s protagonist, Maya. Her strength, wit, stoicism, and aloofness seem the antithesis of what we expect of a victim, but in truth her bravado hides a girl as scarred and haunted as the rest of the Gardener’s victim; just one so previously battle-hardened and disillusioned by life that she won't let this experience break her. As for our villain, he would be your garden-variety psychopath if it wasn’t for the fact that he’s so disconcertingly oblivious to his own evil, exhibiting a warped reasoning and sick perversion of love that was downright nauseating.

The pacing, narrative and plot of the tale were pretty close to perfect. The author masterfully built the tension, ratcheting up the readers need to know more and more of Maya’s tale, while reasonably raising doubts to our narrator’s honesty and reliability. My one small gripe was the anti-climactic reveal of Maya’s big ‘secret,’ which I felt added nothing to the tale, though in fairness it didn’t detract from it either.

Not a book to be loved per se given its subject, The Butterfly Garden is nonetheless a compelling read. While its darkness ensnares and captivates, it’s the depictions of hope, friendship and the sheer strength of the human spirit to survive in the face of unspeakable horror which resonate the loudest.