Do you like watching outrageous amounts of Law & Order? Specifically Law & Order: Special Victim's Unit? Then read this book now. Seriously, this book is like reading an episode of SVU mixed a little with "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo". Hopefully that gives you a pretty good idea of where this book goes, even without reading the synopsis. If you are sensitive to rape, kidnapping, or people with just really messed up lives, you probably won't enjoy this at all so save yourself the trouble. However, if that stuff doesn't bother you and you're looking for a quick read that is a thrilling page turner, then ta-da! I found the book for you! The Butterfly Garden is the story of one sick, and twisted individual's psychotic attempts of making a massive butterfly garden where his butterflies are the most beautiful girls he can find. He then kidnaps them, tattoos elaborate and beautiful butterfly wings on their back, and keeps them in his garden. Until they turn 21. Then things get even more messed up.
I don’t normally read a ton of thriller or crime drama type books (as you can tell from my review history) but every once in a while I just want a good page turner. Something fast and suspenseful. Hutchinson’s story did not disappoint in that regard! This story starts at the end, with Maya (or Inara) being interviewed by the FBI and being told that some of the girls won’t make it and she has all these awful burns all over her hands and arms and immediately I’m thinking: “holy sh*t, what happened?!” And Hutchinson has a very interesting way of telling us that story. She uses two different kinds of perspective, something most English classes tell you not to do. Whenever the FBI is speaking to Maya, its third person limited and whenever Maya is talking, its first person. The effect is supposed to be like you are reading a transcript of sorts but it is a bit jarring for the first couple of chapters. Eventually you get used to it and it works well for the author, all because you want to know what the heck happened!
But the FBI guys are the WORST. Like I said, if you are a fan of SVU or just crime drama TV shows in general, you know these FBI guys are bad at their jobs. They let Maya give this rambling account of her life before leading to the Garden, of the people she lived with, of her terrible family (really, what kid’s parents are more interested in sex with other people that they forget their daughter at a carnival?), and just a bunch of information that, while interesting for the reader on occasion, would not be asked by the FBI. Not when they are waiting on this girl’s story before getting parents notified, or child services, or before any of the other girls will talk to the FBI. Law enforcement want to know the basics when people’s lives are in the balance: who did what, names and locations, and if there are any more bodies. The rest, all those juicy stories, are something the lawyers and reporters need to know going into a trial. But you kind of forgive the FBI thing because, whatever, the story is interesting enough without that hang up.
And this is a really interesting psychological thriller! The Gardener kidnaps stunningly beautiful women of all ethnicities and body types to fill his Garden with. He permanently makes claim to their lives by tattooing intricate butterfly wings over their backs. He makes sure that whatever they wear, whatever hairstyle they use, that he can always see those wings as they move about his Garden. He’s really into this idea that these girls ARE his butterflies. And in a twisted way, he loves them. He wants to preserve their beauty. He rapes them constantly but is “gentle” about it because he loves these girls and believes that they love him. It’s a really fascinating and evil perspective and I wish Hutchinson had just given a better explanation about what made the Gardener this way. She does give a reason but it’s pretty poor considering the lengths and money this guy dumps into this Garden that he’s kept for over 30 years.
I also would have preferred just the Gardener and his youngest son to be the only antagonists. Between them, you get a really interesting dynamic of a son who wants his father’s approval and wants to believe his lies so badly even when he knows what’s happening is wrong. I didn’t need the Gardener’s older son, the stereotypical psycho-killer rapist. He doesn’t serve any real purpose and I found him to be such a bland character. Sure, Maya sometimes goes on random tangents talking about girls who have no place other than to give you a bit more of a glimpse as to why the Garden sucks, but those characters are at least interesting and does show more of the dimensions to the Gardener’s twisted mind. These girl’s lives are awful and terrifying enough without Avery brutalizing them, even killing them occasionally. He doesn’t serve as any real motivation except for his brother to “do the right thing” but even then I don’t think he’s needed. Avery doesn’t belong in THIS story. He could fit perfectly well in another suspense drama, just not this one.
Outside of the FBI and Avery, the only thing I found disappointing was the ending. I guess after such a fast paced drama throughout the rest of the book it’s natural to be a bit disappointed by the ending but this one just seemed to… fizzle out. Some of the elements of the ending felt a bit too coincidental and thrown in at the last moment to where it didn’t feel right and didn’t achieve the kind of climax I wanted for the end of this story. It’s not a huge deal, I just wish the ending had been a bit more satisfying.
But other than that this book was an excellent page turner, an engaging thriller, had really interesting characters (even if I wanted Maya to be angrier at the crappy hand she had been dealt), and was fun to read. So I give it a strong 4 out of 5 stars!