The Butcher by Jennifer Hillier:

A Review

The Butcher cover art

A rash of grisly serial murders plagued Seattle until the infamous “Beacon Hill Butcher” was finally hunted down and killed by police chief Edward Shank in 1985. Now, some thirty years later, Shank, retired and widowed, is giving up his large rambling Victorian house to his grandson Matt, whom he helped raise.

Settling back into his childhood home and doing some renovations in the backyard to make the house feel like his own, Matt, a young up-and-coming chef and restaurateur, stumbles upon a locked crate he’s never seen before. Curious, he picks the padlock and makes a discovery so gruesome it will forever haunt him… Faced with this deep dark family secret, Matt must decide whether to keep what he knows buried in the past, go to the police, or take matters into his own hands.

Meanwhile Matt’s girlfriend, Sam, has always suspected that her mother was murdered by the Beacon Hill Butcher—two years after the supposed Butcher was gunned down. As she pursues leads that will prove her right, Sam heads right into the path of Matt’s terrible secret.

A thriller with taut, fast-paced suspense, and twists around every corner, The Butcher will keep you guessing until the bitter, bloody end.
–book description

This is the only book of Jennifer Hillier’s that I’ve read, drawn in by the Jeffery Deaver quote that accompanies the blurb on Netgalley. I was surprised and disappointed at the same time, I admit.


When the story opens, Matt is moving into his grandparents’ home and the Chief is moving out into an old age home. Very quickly though things change when Matt, while renovating the backyard, discovers a trunk filled with souvenirs: the left hands of women, and a videotape that confirms his grandfather was the Butcher, a notorious serial killer. But, the Chief supposedly killed the Butcher years ago and he built a successful career on that event. But the videotape shows Matt the truth – his grandfather was the Butcher, and Rufus Wedge, the man he killed, was a patsy.

It’s a brave move, letting the cat out of the bag so soon, but, as the story progressed, I realized the book wanted to be a character piece more than a murder mystery. Chief is a control freak, a policeman used to his orders being followed and chafing at the thought of age robbing him of his physical prowess because his mind is still the same – sharp and desperate for the kill that keeps him sated. He is evil, and his old age hasn’t dulled that.

Matt is driven, like Chief, but his personal industry has taken him to the top of a different game – he’s a chef, following in his grandmother’s footsteps. When he finds the trunk with the souvenirs, he doesn’t take it to the cops. He reasons that he can’t, not without losing his restaurant and his reality TV show. I almost found that understandable – it’s logical because he’s risked everything, including his relationship with girlfriend Sam, in order to be a success.

Sam is as driven as Matt in the search for her mother’s killer and her pet theory – that the Butcher killed her mother, some years after the Chief supposedly killed the “Butcher”.  She is consumed by it and the research she’s doing for a book she’s writing about this theory.

Then Matt accidentally kills his assistant chef, calls the Chief for help, and promptly becomes an ineffectual character, strung along by the Chief and increasingly insecure when it comes to Sam. Their relationship slowly begins to crumble. Matt doesn’t do much else other than try to avoid the cops, hate his grandfather, and try to win Sam back even as he is aware that their relationship is ending.

Both Matt and Sam are defined by the Butcher: Matt through finding the truth about the Butcher and Sam through her mother’s death by the Butcher. But both react very differently. Matt grows weaker as a character, more under the Chief’s thumb and control as the book goes, while Sam’s determination stays true and grows fiercer; and yet her character is as weak as Matt’s – she doesn’t really investigate anything. Everything happens to her. She isn’t very proactive in this investigation.

When Matt calls the Chief for help, I thought that might herald a change in him to be more like the Chief, or some sort of deepening of his character, but that was never really achieved.

It’s with Sam that the story slowly begins to fall apart – she coincidentally meets a woman that knew her mother and knows the killer’s real identity. Bonnie meets Sam and tells her something about her mother. Just as she is about to reveal the Chief as the killer, Sam mentions Matt’s name, and Bonnie realizes that Matt is related to the Butcher. Would you not want to warn someone who is that close to a killer, when you know she is driven and determined to find him? Bonnie doesn’t and is promptly dispatched later, rendering her appearance in the book confusing.

Sam’s investigation flits between Matt, the Chief, and Jason (a minor character and love interest), asking the right questions but never uncovering enough to get anywhere. I thought she might get suspicious at least, but she never really does.

At its core, this book has a marvelous story, one of family bonds and control, but Matt and Sarah’s roles are completely overpowered by the Chief. Had Sam’s pursuit of the truth and the Butcher taken her closer to uncovering the mystery, there would have been something to keep the tension growing in the story – would she find out? A scintillating question, especially as she is so close to the Chief. Would she find out about Matt?

This book wants to be a character piece and a crime novel, but when the Butcher overpowers every other character and isn’t supposed to, it lost me. A crime novel has to have a core conflict or question that needs to be answered, something to keep the story moving as it follows the characters through the plot – and this book doesn’t really have that. In terms of a character piece, the contrast between Matt and Sam and how they deal with the Butcher in their lives eventually loses steam as well.

There are so many delicious possibilities in this book, but they’re never really explored.

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Verushka is a writer, editor, proofreader and copyeditor based in Sydney, Australia. She has worked in publishing for 13 years, with a wide variety of content, and she adores working with authors to help them realize their vision. These days, she is working on a freelance writing career, along with her freelance editing. Her passions include all things geeky; she counts an autographed Waiting for Godot window card (with Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan) and her numerous Spock (Prime, of course!) figurines among her prize possessions. You can read more from Verushka at her blog

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