The psychology of a serial killer is always an absorbing topic. To most people, the lack of emotion and the urges to harm that are essential to sociopaths are as foreign a topic as learning another language. It is the differences in their psyche that makes them truly mesmerizing subjects. Unfortunately, The Butcher all but ignores this aspect of serial killers, a loss that readers will keenly feel. In fact, any attempt at getting into the head of the Butcher results in statements about how he does not care about the how or why he is the way he is. Readers will and do, and this insufficient explanation for his behavior does nothing to keep a reader’s interest.
There are other opportunities for similar dives into the human psyche, all of which Ms. Hillier fails to engage. Sadly, one cannot feel this gaping hole in the story, as any novel about murder, a murderer, and his or her victims begs for some form of psychological study. This is especially true for third-person narrators. Readers see the actions of the characters through their eyes, and one expects to know their motivations as well as their thought processes behind those actions. Ms. Hillier only skims the surface of this insight. The potential is there; the execution is disappointing.
The story itself is rather predictable while still being suspenseful and entertaining. One knows who the Butcher is before the reveal, something thankfully revealed early on in the story. One knows how far Matt will fall, just as one knows how Sam’s story is going to end. Yet, none of this reduces the entertainment value of characters on the hunt for a killer and struggling with family secrets. In fact, it can be a fun reading experience just to see how all of the pieces fall into place to form the expected results. Such is the case with The Butcher.
The Butcher is an adequate thriller. The story itself is interesting and exciting, but there are enough issues to prevent the story from being a great one. The pacing is too frenetic; there is no time for readers to get to know the characters or their motivations. In fact, the characters are extremely one-dimensional with no development. In addition, there is an entire psychological element to the serial killer mindset that Ms. Hillier virtually ignores. However, Sam’s search for answers remains intriguing, while Matt’s descent into darkness is fascinating. That it could be more so with additional development is a lost opportunity about which readers must decide how crucial it is.