I’m thrilled to have a review today for The Killing of Butterfly Joe. This book is published on Thursday March 8th by Picador. I’d like to thank them and Rhidian for sending me a copy.
Let’s find out about the book.
‘I killed Joe once, in a manner of speaking. But not twice. Not in the way you mean.’
Llew Jones wanted to see the States and write about the experience. Then he met Joe Bosco, a butterfly salesman as charismatic as he is infuriating, and they were soon hurtling across 1980s America together, caught up in an adventure that got way, way out of control. Now Llew is in jail, his friend is gone, and he has to give his side of the story if he’s ever going to get free . . .
Part existential road trip, part neo-gothic thriller, part morality tale, The Killing of Butterfly Joe by Rhidian Brook is a dazzling and propulsive novel full of characters you’ll never forget. An epic story of friendship, desire, and participating in the Great American Dream – ‘the one that leads from rags to riches via pitches’ – whatever the consequences.
When I was about five, we had new neighbours move next door. They were the first Asian family to live in our road. They invited us round for drinks and something to eat. They had three older teenage children – one boy and two girls. I remember that the snacks were a bit spicy and the girls and their mother were dressed beautifully. But there was something else that caught my eye; something hung on a wall that I didn’t expect to see – butterflies in a framed glass case. I asked one of my parents if they were real and I was a bit shocked to find out that they were. Even at such a young age, I thought butterflies should be flying free, not pinned down in a case on the wall.
Joe Bosco would disagree with me on that. Set in America in the 1980s, The Killing of Butterfly Joe tells the story of the Bosco family, as witnessed by Llew Jones. Llew is minding his own business, half-reading/ half-sleeping by the Kaaterskill Falls in the Catskill Mountains in New York State, when he first encounters Joe and his sister, Mary. Like a moth to the light, Llew is drawn to the brother and sister. Joe and his family sell butterflies in cases and his dream is for every house in America to have one. He thinks that Llew and his lovely accent (he’s Welsh) and his way with words (Llew claims to be a writer), will help achieve that goal. Butterflies may look beautiful but their lives are brutal. It isn’t until it’s too late that Llew discovers that the Bosco family may be the same.
Spirituality plays quite a big part in this novel. The 1980s saw the rise of TV evangelists and preaching of a prosperity gospel. Joe attacks this with the zeal of an Old Testament prophet – Elijah springs to mind. He’s not afraid to walk into churches and challenge the minister and the congregation on their commitment to God and the poor. Their answer often comes in the form of a beating or a trip to the police station. But nothing puts Joe off.
The Killing of Butterfly Joe is a great title but equally it could be called The Ballad of Butterfly Joe. There is a lyrical quality to Brook’s writing and he has some poetry at the start of each section. Each chapter starts with a little line saying what is going to happen which helps to set the scene. Joe, as a character, is huge but Brook has been careful to not create a caricature but a genuine, larger-than-life, man. Just like a butterfly, Joe barely settles before moving on and takes Llew on the road to sell his wares. But for every sell, there is a loss. Llew may not see it to begin with, dazzled by the beauty of the butterflies and Joe, yet we, the readers, know. We knew when we picked up the book and read the title – The Killing of Butterfly Joe. It’s there, like a distant rhythm, slowing increasing in intensity, until it can’t be ignored any longer. Something devastating is going to happen.
It’s hard to define The Killing of Butterfly Joe in terms of genre. It’s a mixture of a thriller and a great family saga, told in a rich literary style. A bit like having all the cakes and eating them. If I had to condense my thoughts into one word then it would be – epic.
Now you might be thinking that the name Rhidian Brook sounds familiar. If you listen to the Today programme on Radio 4, then you’ve probably heard his dulcet tones on ‘Thought for the Day’. As well as writing novels (The Killing of Butterfly Joe is his fourth book), Rhidian also writes for TV and film. His film The Aftermath, based on his novel by the same name, is due for release at some point this year. It stars Keira Knightley, Jason Clarke and Alexander Skarsgård. At the moment, I’ve just given you a little taster of the book but on publication day – March 8th – I’m going to have a Q&A with Rhidian. You can pre-order The Killing of Butterfly Joe here.
Rhidian Brook is an award-winning writer of fiction. His first novel, The Testimony of Taliesin Jones, won several prizes including the Somerset Maugham Award. His third, The Aftermath, was an international bestseller and has been translated into twenty-five languages; it has also been made inti a major motion picture. He has written for television and the screen and is a regular contributor to BBC Radio 4’s ‘Thought for the Day’. He once had a job selling butterflies in glass cases.