The Butterfly Garden (The Collector #1)
By Dot Hutchison
Publisher: Thomas & Mercer
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…
*Warning – this book contains scenes of rape & violence.
The Butterfly Garden is a tale of abduction, abuse and secrecy that will certainly work well for some and should be avoided by others due to the graphic nature of the content. While I did not find it to be too overwhelming, it is fair to say it has the potential to be very unsettling.
“Three butterflies for a broken girl: one for personality, one for possession, and one for pettiness.”
Abducted and branded with lavish butterfly tattoos, young girls are forced to live out their allotted time within a garden their abductor has created for them. His “butterflies”. Stripped of their true identities with the only real escape being death, the girls have learned to live within the confines of their prison. That is until a twist of events will expose the truth and reveal this dark secret.
We are introduced to Maya as she is being questioned by two FBI agents after a harrowing escape from The Garden. It is through Maya’s account of events that we are told the grisly story of The Gardener and his Garden. One man who harbors a monstrous obsession with beauty and the “home” he has built for his victims. But Maya’s story leaves even more to question. What is it that she is not sharing?
I am slightly divided on my feelings for The Butterfly Garden. There are a multitude of elements that work so well within this twisted tale, yet there are also a couple that depreciated my experience.
Our protagonist Maya is complex. She consists of many layers that are slowly peeled away, revealing a young woman who has suffered greatly. Yet she hasn’t in the traditional sense. She has hardened. Refusing to be defined by the past she has run from. It was easy to establish an instant connection with a real respect and concern for Maya that only grows as the story progresses. But as she continues with her recollection with the two FBI agents, we realize there is also an air of uncertainty surrounding her. She is hiding personal details and aspects of her life. We are left to decipher whether this is due to her desire to separate herself from her dark history or something even more. I thoroughly enjoyed her.
The plot is not entirely new. Many thrillers and mysteries revolve around abductions. But the concept of the Garden is original. And it is terrifying in its own right. I do not want to elaborate much further on this because the revelation is a large portion of the experience, but the butterflies and their fate are one that resonates and lingers. The Gardner is the epitome of nightmares.
“The trouble with sociopaths, really, is that you never know where they draw their boundaries.”
The Butterfly Garden brilliantly touches on many facets of the human mind and psych. It delves deep into what happens when living is the only option and escaping has been removed from the equation. I found my brain running through a barrage of possible effects on the victims that included shock, hypervigilance, denial, and total submission. How does one learn to survive? Can one learn to survive?
“It was a strange kind of pain, choosing to lie there under the needles and let him write his ownership into my skin.”
The narration transitions seamlessly from past recollections up to the present events, cleverly divulging a fascinating story at a consistent pace. The Butterfly Garden offers up a somewhat unique and compelling perspective through Maya’s interrogation. So what was it that ultimately subtracted from my experience?
- There was never a sense of urgency or panic.
- The ending completely fell apart for me.
I am willing to attribute the lack of tension and suspense largely to the fact that the story is being told from in hindsight from a survivor. It is evident that Maya sees matters for exactly what they are and has learned to adapt to each situation as necessary. She is in part desensitized due to all she has encountered in life. But it was monotone at times. It felt almost awkward to read about such heinous crimes and never truly experiencing a full range of heightened emotions and tension. This is a thriller? Maybe a mystery? I am not sure at this point.
The ending was where it derailed for me. It angered me and left me frustrated and questioning the credibility of it all. It was liking watching everything unravel in a rushed and clunky manner that was demeaning and detrimental. I have tried to come to terms with the decision the author has made here and I simply cannot. For this reason I am cautious to recommend what was almost a brilliant read and will be knocking off a full star.