Dot Hutchison’s The Butterfly Garden is a dark masterpiece, a disturbing psychological thriller and gruesome crime novel overlaid with a relentless sense of horror. All these elements come together fluidly in this exceptionally well-written book that is full of suspense and unnervingly dark plot twists.
The plot of The Butterfly Garden involves a group of girls who are kidnapped and held captive by a deranged wannabe lepidopterist known only as the Gardener. The Gardener tattoos giant butterfly wings onto the backs of the unwilling girls and rechristens them with new names as they are imprisoned in his secret butterfly garden.
This is only the beginning of the horrors that the girls will encounter at the hands of the Gardener and his even more sadistic firstborn son in The Butterfly Garden. There is a glimmer of hope in the Gardener’s younger son, but will he have the courage to stand up to his elder brother and tyrannical father?
The story alternates between the first-person narration of Maya, one of the kidnapped girls and the main character of the novel, and Maya’s third-person interview with the FBI agents who are investigating the case. Dot Hutchison effectively uses these alternating first- and third-person narrative styles to maintain a heightened level of suspense throughout the novel, keeping the reader guessing until the very end.
Maya is an outstanding narrator, full of dark wit and keen insights. There is also a specter of potential Stockholm syndrome hanging over her narration as the true horrors of the butterfly garden are gradually revealed.
Maya’s account of the events in the butterfly garden are interspersed with stories of her troubled family background. It is especially interesting to see how Maya’s experiences as a child shaped her approach for surviving abduction and caring for the other imprisoned girls.
The Butterfly Garden is the first volume of Dot Hutchison’s series, The Collector. Rather than continuing with Maya, the subsequent books in the series follow the same set of FBI agents as they investigate new cases. While Maya is a very well-developed character, I didn’t feel any particular attachment to the FBI agents in The Butterfly Garden, since they are basically vehicles allowing Maya to tell her story. Given this choice, I’m curious to see how Dot Hutchison takes this series forward.
Overall, The Butterfly Garden is top-notch horror that explores the depths of human cruelty, especially at the hands of an exceptionally disturbed and sadistic man who bestializes young women. After reading this novel, I will never look at butterfly gardens the same way.