THE ROSES OF MAY by Dot Hutchison (Collector Trilogy #2)
Thomas & Mercer; 5/23/17
CBTB Rating: 3.5/5
The Verdict: compelling but uneven slow-burn suspense
I recently read - and fell head-over-heels for - the dark, twisted page-turner that is THE BUTTERFLY GARDEN by Dot Hutchison, Book 1 in Hutchison’s Collector Trilogy. Naturally, I had to get my hands on the second series installment, THE ROSES OF MAY, as soon as possible - especially because the final book in the series releases this May. THE ROSES OF MAY would be hard-pressed to be more different from its predecessor; if you’re a fan of THE BUTTERFLY GARDEN like I was, be sure to go into this book with the right expectations. If you can set aside your hope for this book to deliver the same kind of shocking, visceral, downright disturbing read as did THE BUTTERFLY GARDEN, you’ll find within THE ROSES OF MAY a compelling suspense story, emotionally-engaging characters, and an all-around solid - albeit not stellar - read. If, on the other hand, you’re really in the market for a serial killer thriller that can go toe to toe with Hutchison’s twisted imagination in THE BUTTERFLY GARDEN, you’d be best looking elsewhere. (Have you read THE FOURTH MONKEY by J.D. Barker yet? If not, read that next!) THE ROSES OF MAY certainly has its own merits, which I’ll discuss in detail below, but the bottom line: it’s hard not to compare this book to its predecessor. If you’re intrigued by it, consider borrowing this book from your local library to see if it’s for you.
Four months after the explosion at the Garden, a place where young women known as the Butterflies were kept captive, FBI agents Brandon Eddison, Victor Hanoverian, and Mercedes Ramirez are still entrenched in the aftermath, helping survivors in the process of adjusting to life on the outside. With winter coming to an end, the Butterflies have longer, warmer days of healing ahead. But for the agents, the impending thaw means one gruesome thing: a chilling guarantee that somewhere in the country, another young woman will turn up dead in a church with her throat slit and her body surrounded by flowers.
Priya Sravasti’s sister fell victim to the killer years ago. Now she and her mother move every few months, hoping for a new beginning. But when she ends up in the madman’s crosshairs, the hunt takes on new urgency. Only with Priya’s help can the killer be found—but will her desperate hope for closure compel her to put her very life on the line?
I’m not sure I can ever remember reading two series installments as distinct in style and content as are THE BUTTERFLY GARDEN and THE ROSES OF MAY. Over a week after finishing the latter, I still can’t quite decide exactly how I feel about this difference. On the one hand: your expectations going into THE ROSES OF MAY will be more important than ever. If you have a chance of appreciating this book for its own merits, it will have to be because you’ve prepared yourself for just how different it will be—and I think, unfortunately, that will be a barrier for readers who haven’t been made aware of this difference before they pick the book up. On the other hand: I absolutely love when an author is willing to take risks and push boundaries. I comment all the time about how authors like Ruth Ware and Clare Mackintosh are so adept at “reinventing themselves” with each new book, delivering a read that strikes a similar tone while still being fresh and inventive. Hutchison’s self-reinvention isn’t quite as successful here—lost in THE ROSES OF MAY is the tension that drives THE BUTTERFLY GARDEN forward—but that’s not to say it isn’t without other successes, too. THE ROSES OF MAY delivers a more measured read, focusing on the survivors of horrific acts rather than on the acts themselves. In doing so, Hutchison makes space for herself to delve more deeply into the inner lives of these survivors: the way their traumas have shaped them, and the way they continue to fight to reclaim their sense of self and their sense of security. The problem is, of course, that these subtle strengths of the novel can get lost in our eagerness to find within it the same gripping, twisted shocks of its predecessor—a hope that won’t be fulfilled here. It won’t be possible to read this book without comparing it to THE BUTTERFLY GARDEN, but I would encourage you to, where you can, look beyond this comparison to appreciate what does make this book compelling and engaging.
One of my favorite elements of Book 1 in the Collector Trilogy was its juxtaposition of the beauty of the “Garden” with the horrific acts committed there. In THE ROSES OF MAY, Hutchison once again weaves beauty together with death—this time, through a killer who leaves his victims in picturesque local churches, their hair adorned with flowers. What is it about this pairing that is so haunting? The images Hutchison paints are chilling: a brutally murdered girl made “pure” in the killer’s eyes, and displayed with tenderness and care. There are relatively few scenes of violence here, this being a serial killer thriller; where THE BUTTERFLY GARDEN was genuinely brutal to read, THE ROSES OF MAY shies away a bit from this in-your-face darkness. THE ROSES OF MAY isn’t a feel-good read by any means; its killer is depraved in his own right, but he’s just no Gardener, and Hutchison never ratchets up the tension here to the extent we know she’s capable of. I have a sneaking suspicion, though, that that’s just not her intention with this book.
Rather than portraying the stomach-turning, in-your-face evils that we know she can write so effectively, Hutchison focuses THE ROSES OF MAY on the inner life of survivors of traumatic events. Readers will pick up where we left off with the surviving Butterflies from Book 1 - these young women will serve as a secondary plotline in Book 2. At the forefront of THE ROSES OF MAY is a young woman named Priya. Years prior, Priya’s sister was murdered, and Priya found her body in a local church near their home. Now, Priya and her mother have picked up and moved every few months, seeking a new place to put down roots and finally, finally, feel safe. But when flowers begin appearing on Priya’s doorstep - the same flowers that were placed in the hair of the murder victims - Priya and her mom know the killer is catching up with them. It’s a tense, unnerving concept—but not one executed to its full potential. Without saying too much, an odd dynamic develops, whereby Priya’s search for justice for her sister causes her to risk her life to catch her sister’s killer. Hutchison has a track record in the Collector Trilogy of writing dramatic crime fiction, but I couldn’t help but think she’s gone a bit too far here. I’m more than willing to suspend disbelief a bit as a reader, but Priya’s role in the hunt for the killer became too far-fetched, even for me.
But again, this is a book of contradictions: even while I found Priya’s role in the story verging on the absurd, I loved Priya’s character. Truly, I loved this character. Priya is resilient, unapologetic, and fierce - she and her mother are the kind of female characters I want more of in crime fiction. Priya has been through a horrific trauma, and Hutchison does a superb job illustrating how this trauma plays out in Priya’s personal life. Following the loss of her sister and a tragedy involving her dad, Priya now struggles with an eating disorder. Hutchison doesn’t shy away from examining how this disordered eating ebbs and flows in Priya’s life, and, while it’s quite affecting and challenging to read some of these scenes, I so appreciated Hutchison’s candor on this topic. I'm betting a good deal of us can all agree: life is messy, and coping with the messiness is never simple. Hutchison does an excellent job capturing how this “messiness” (in this case, not just “messiness” but genuine tragedy) impacts Priya in an honest, no-holds-barred way, and I respect her for doing so with empathy and care. That being said, do be aware that this book includes content about eating disorders, and perhaps stay away from this read if that’s a topic you’re sensitive to.
It’s hard to summarize a book for which I have such mixed feelings - and it’s equally hard to imagine what the trilogy’s final installment, THE SUMMER CHILDREN, will have in store for readers this May. If it follows in the footsteps of THE BUTTERFLY GARDEN and THE ROSES OF MAY… I have absolutely no idea what it will be like, but I’m looking forward to finding out.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review. All opinions my own.
Series: The Collector Trilogy (Book 2)
Paperback: 300 pages
Publisher: Thomas & Mercer (May 23, 2017)
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