I used to read a lot of books like these. Jeffery Deaver was my jam for a really long time. Books with FBI agents and police officers catching serial killers who did really horrific things that I tried not to think about too hard. Then I had kids and I started paying attention to the news and books like this begin to stress me out. But for some reason, The Butterfly Garden ended up on my radar with an incredibly high rating on Goodreads and a free copy through Kindle unlimited that would allow me to both listen to the audio book and read the ebook. And three weeks later, I had devoured all three books in the series and now I’m here to tell you that you should do the same. These books are incredibly good. Not because of the crimes, because the crimes are icky and gross and upsetting, but because Dot Hutchinson did the thing where instead of creating a series of books about the same bad guy, she centers them around the same team of good guys. Think how Tana French wrote her CID books. Each novel focuses a little more intently on one of the agents, but the others are always in the background doing support, and by the 3rd novel I felt like I knew them all inside and out.
The Butterfly Garden (The Collector #1)
So here’s what I mean by gross and upsetting: a man known to his captives as the Gardener kidnaps beautiful young women (very young — they have an “expiration date” of 21), keeps them captive in his beautiful garden, and tattoos massive butterfly wings on their backs. He takes away their names, sexually assaults them, and forces them to wear clothing that will display his “artwork”. The novel begins right after he gets BLOWN THE FUCK UP in a massive explosion that takes out many of the inhabitants of the garden, as well as their captor, but also gets the attention of the FBI.
“Let’s call me a shadow child, overlooked rather than broken. I’m the teddy bear gathering dust bunnies under the bed, not the one-legged soldier.”
The story is told by one woman, Inara, who became a sort of mother figure to the other girls. She’s being interviewed by two agents in particular — Vic Hanoverian and Brandon Eddison — who can’t decide how much they believe her. Inara’s definitely hiding something, but whether it’s something from her past prior to the Garden, or something to do with her involvement with the Gardener, we can’t tell. Vic, who’s sort of the main cop in this one, has an incredible team of agents who trust his leadership but each have their own strengths. Hot-headed Eddison (he gets the main focus in the second book, and I adore him…eventually) helps with Inara’s interview and Mercedes Ramirez helps with the youngest of the women (girls, really) taken by the Gardener. They’re an excellent team, and watching the history of the Garden spool out in Inara’s words was gripping.
Roses of May (The Collector #2)
This book focuses on our man Eddison. He and his team are still working with the after-effects of the Butterfly case (that’s another cool thing about these books, the survivors of the first novel are still getting updates in the third) alongside a case that’s very dear to him — Priya Sravasti’s sister died at the hands of serial killer who murders a young woman in a church every spring, with flowers accompanying each corpse. Eddison and Priya became very close after her sister’s death, and when Priya starts receiving flowers around the time that the killer normally strikes, he leaps into action. Eddison joins up with an agent in Denver (Sterling, who eventually joins the team) to solve this decades-old case before it catches up to Priya.
“Some people stay broken, others put themselves back together with all the sharp bits showing”
Of the three, this one was my favorite — almost entirely because of Priya and her mother. They’re so sharp and smart but also so damaged and haunted. Priya and Eddison have this great big brother-little sister relationship, and the little touches seen there were great (for instance, Eddison doesn’t display pictures in his apartment because he doesn’t want his loved ones to become targets if someone breaks in — so Priya dresses up a Ken doll as an FBI agent and takes pictures of him all over the world for Eddison). Priya also almost never makes the kinds of dumb decisions you’d normally see a teenage girl make while being stalked by her sister’s killer. She includes her mother in what’s going on, she’s (almost entirely) upfront with the police. She’s cautious as well as angry and it makes a great combination in a heroine.
The Summer Children (The Collector #3)