While Hillier’s first two novels (Creep and Freak) established her writing chops, albeit hampered by a selection of questionable themes, The Butcher is securely on track as a crime thriller with overtones of horror as a true psychopath cuts a swath of death through Seattle circa 1980, his young female victims dying horrible, agonizing deaths. When Rufus Wedge (the “Beacon Hill Butcher”) is finally captured and killed in 1985, Police Chief Edward Shank is hailed as the man of the hour, the city breathing a collective sigh of relief after a long siege.
Years later, Shank is an eighty-year-old widower currently downsizing to a retirement facility, his grandson Matthew moving into the home where he was raised after his mother’s untimely death. A restaurateur and food truck owner, Matt is resisting a formal commitment to Samantha, his girlfriend of the last three years, who wants to move into the house with him. Sam is writing a book on The Butcher, convinced that he killed her mother, Sarah Marques, in 1987—and is still at large. Sam tries to give Matt his space, cautioned not to press him by their best friend, Jason Sullivan, a former professional football star.
With the Chief settled into his new digs, Matt has begun improvements to the property that is his new home. Sam is working on her book, consulting frequently with Matt’s grandfather and biding her time while Matt gets his bearings. On the cusp of real success, Matt is under considerable pressure at the restaurant, on track to star in a network reality show and overwhelmed with all his obligations, far less patient than usual with both his employees and his girlfriend. Nothing is terribly amiss. But when Matt delves into the contents of a box buried in the Chief’s backyard recently unearthed by contractors and Sam is contacted by a woman who claims to have known her murdered mother well, who also claims she narrowly escaped The Butcher when Sarah was murdered, the tale takes on more disturbing undertones.
While the various protagonists pursue their normal activities, the reader is kept in a constant state of anxiety, aware of a growing aura of menace as the real serial killer decides how best to contain the immediate threat to his identity and Matt grapples with managing an unexpected nightmare that has the potential to ruin everything he has worked so diligently to accomplish. It is a matter of calling out the monsters that walk among us, who tear indiscriminately at the fabric of society, instilling fear and death, then retreat behind a façade of normalcy, unrecognizable among friends and neighbors.
Without sacrificing her penchant for the macabre or her skills at twisting the commonplace into scenes of horror, Hillier seems to have found her niche in a crowded genre, manipulating characters into shocking confrontations while the reader helplessly witnesses the meeting of innocent and killer. There are a few leaps into territory that challenges believability, but overall the author has successfully staked her claim with the authority of an observer of the human condition at its most provocative.