butcher

As the end of September beckons, I just had to find the time to post a review of this one! Despite the resounding positive reviews of Hillier’s two previous books Creep and Freak, this is my first foray into her writing. Why have I waited so long?*

The book centres on Edward Shank, a retired Seattle police chief, now at the mercy of his health and struggling with his transition into residence at a seniors home. Widely acclaimed for halting the career of serial killer The Butcher 30 years previously, Shank is a highly respected figure, and a man who still affords a great deal of respect in Seattle society. Having passed the ownership of his home to his grandson Matt- an up and coming chef on the cusp of TV celebrity status- we see Shank adjusting to his change of life in his own inimitable and gruff fashion. Matt’s girlfriend, Sam, a journalist who has her own unfinished business with The Butcher, believing her mother was one of his victims, although at the time of her mother’s death, he had already been despatched to the afterlife by Shank. As her investigations continue, Matt unearths something nasty in his grandfather’s backyard, and so the shadow of The Butcher begins to loom large once again…

Edward Shank is an absolute gem of a character, with Hillier slowly revealing the multi-faceted complexity he harbours, tempering his outward appearance of a curmudgeonly old man with little time or patience with his fellow seniors at the retirement home, with the far, far, darker side of his personality. This superb characterisation drives the book completely, as Shank’s less than favourable opinions of everyone he encounters is an endless joy, and the manipulative nature of his personality is front and centre throughout. As we become more enmeshed in the secrets of Shank’s past, and his true nature is revealed, I for one, was not that perturbed by it, as Hillier’s light comic touch almost desensitises us to the horrors that are unveiled, unlike Matt and Sam whose worlds are shaken off their axis by dear old Edward throughout. I don’t know how much it says about my own slightly warped sense of humour, but I absolutely adored the blackly humorous fatalism of this book and found myself laughing out loud on numerous occasions, in much the same way as Six Feet Under or Dexter with their darkly humorous take on mortality.

There are grim surprises throughout, underscored by some quite visceral violence, but this for me was the central appeal of the book, played out with this wonderful tongue-in-cheek feel to the whole affair. Fuelled by Hillier’s pokes at modern celebrity, sex, death and the sheer inanity of aspects of our everyday lives shuffling on the mortal coil, this book is not only a credible serial killer thriller, but wholly entertaining to boot. Yes, there are some slightly awkward coincidences in the plot but no matter, as generally I found I just glided through the narrative, and this was genuinely a book that I found difficult to put aside (involving reading in the wee small hours). With a couple of reveals that encouraged reactions of ‘ ew…gross’ and a bit of shifting in my seat, I was hooked throughout, and am delighted to say that the appeal of the book crosses generations. Boring my mum- herself a fairly impatient and outspoken senior- about how much fun this book was, she read it too. In two days. Loved it. So if you just fancy a pacey thriller, with a few pull-you-up moments, a nice dollop of violence and a darkly playful edge, you’d be as well to read this. A devilishly dark read, but an absolute hoot.

(With thanks to Simon and Schuster for the ARC)

*I have now bought Creep and Freak on the strength of this one…

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