An Aged 2.5 Stars
Within the past year I have read In the Woods, Rogue Island and now The Butcher’s Boy. Each of these won the Edgar Award for best first novel. After reading the first two award winners, Tana French and Bruce DeSilva are now two of my favorite authors. Unfortunately, this former award winner does not leave me excited about the further novels.
The writing and pacing of the book felt disjointed, slow and dated. The majority of books I read have been written the past ten year. The Butcher’s Boy was written a couple of years after I was born and it certainly felt its age.
As this was a weak point in the book, my summary will be equally weak. A female agent from the US Departments of Justice is following a trail of murders. In a parallel storyline, “the butcher’s boy”, a oddly sympathetic hitman for the mafia, is off doing what hitmen do. After completing series of hits, he finds himself on the run. Instead of simply hiding out, he decides to take it to the mafia and fight back.
A Sympathetic Hitman?
Our friendly neighbourhood hit man was an interesting character. For a man that spends his time blowing up, poisoning and shooting people, he is oddly sympathetic. I found myself rooting for the bad guy. It may have simply been that he was only “badish” and the people that hired him were worse. It may have been the fact that he only killed as part of his job or to protect himself. He didn’t get his jollies from killing little girls or torturing boy scouts which I guess makes him a discriminating killer.
While not thrilling by today’s standard, the portion of the subplot where the killer was on the run was interesting. While it was not difficult for him, it was fun to watch him take down the varous mob bosses by various means.
Where did the Plotline Go?
For an award winner, I thought the plot was thin and poorly constructed. Realistically, the plotline with the Department of Justice Agent could have been omitted. The agent was flat, prone to serious errors and not especially bright. Her actions did nothing to further the story. I found myself scratching my head and wondering was I was being forced to read her story. This was the story’s biggest downfall. Had the story focused on the hitman alone, my rating would have been at least 1-2 stars higher.
Additionally, the story structure was both jerky and disconcerting. I continually found myself lost and backtracking. It did not follow the smooth and coherent structure of the modern crime novel.
I read this book after multiple people sang its praises. Although I did not find the story engaging this may be what I call the “star wars effect”. I don’t like Star Wars. I don’t find it interesting in the least. Many of my friends are big fans. I have always attributed my ambivalence to the series due to the fact that I did not watch the movies as a kid. Having watched the movies for the first time while in my twenties, they didn’t hold any magic and simply didn’t compare to the new movies. Maybe this novel held some magic in 1983 but in 2014, the magic has faded.
It is difficult to find commentary on the sex/violence/language content of book if you are interested. I make an effort to give you the information so you can make an informed decision before reading. *Disclaimer* I do not take note or count the occurrences of adult language as I read. I am simply giving approximations.
Scale 1 – Lowest 5 – Highest
Sex – 1
There is no sexual content. There is no love story or romantic relationships.
Language – 2
There is minimal adult language.
Violence – 3
There are multiple murders throughout the story. The murders are not graphic and are relatively mild compared to more recent crime novels.