First published back in August of 2018, British author Jonathan Butcher’s novel ‘The Children At The Bottom Of The Gardden’ offered up a melting pot of violence, corruption and the unlikeliest of human hope, wrapped up in a character-driven tale of crime and a sinister haunting.

DLS Synopsis:
T
wenty year old Raymond Atticus had had it with Seadon.  He decided he had to get out.  He’d set himself a few important rules to observe while he prepared to leave the coastal city.  He’d avoid Class A drugs – they were too easily available.  He’d abstain from sex, because his cock had a brain of its own.  And, most importantly, he’d do his best to stay on everyone’s good side.  Admittedly, easier said than done in a place like Seadon.

Ray had been working at the Green Emporium selling smoking paraphernalia and novelty shit to holiday makers.  In the cramped confines of the shop he was pretty much his own boss.  A little while back he’d made the decision to employ Thomas – a chubby, simpleton with zero social skills, but undeniably loyal.  He could trust Thomas.  The guy was odd but harmless.  In fact, Ray kind of liked the fella.

Although Ray ran the shop, he had to report to his boss.  Henry Borders was a notorious and widely feared drug baron.  He’d built his empire of white powder since his early teens.  Now he ran the Seadon underworld.  His employees were thugs.  None more so than Percy Locker – Henry’s second-in-command.  The guy was a sadistic murderer with a pendant for torture.  And he didn’t like how Henry had taken this young, purple-dreadlocked goth kid under his wing.

All the criminal activity lurking behind the façade of a tourist shop went over Thomas’ head.  He liked working at the Green Emporium.  He liked working for Ratan.  That’s what he knew people called Ray - Ratan.  However, Thomas didn’t know about the stash of money Henry had hidden away in the office above the shop.  He didn’t know about how Henry was gradually pulling Ray into the criminal underworld.  He certainly didn’t know anything about the shitstorm that would eventually come his way.

Thomas had other issues to deal with.  Although he was a loner, he had some special friends.  Children who played games with him.  Benny, Hanna and Simon lived in the Gardden.  As long as Thomas played their games, as long as he did what they said, then having them as friends wasn’t too bad.  But sometimes the games made him feel sad.  Sometimes they scared him.  Like the knife game.  Like the suitcase game.

Although they live in Seadon, they all have very different lives, separate existences, personalities that couldn’t be less alike.  But through the actions of a lost soul – a nobody named Gary Pickles – a chain reaction of events is set in motion that will change all of their lives forever

In the shadows of the Gardden, the restless are waiting.  Watching.  Whispering.  They want to play.  Play their games.  Play, and for you to stay…forever…

DLS Review:
What sort of novel follows something like ‘What Good Girls Do’ (2017)?  Everyone already thinks you’re pretty darn messed up, so where the hell do you take your next offering?  I have to admit, ‘The Children At the Bottom Of The Gardden’ wasn’t what I expected for Butcher’s follow-up tale.  Although, as I was gradually immersed in the story and the lives of the characters, shit started slotting into place.  As the characters interacted, fucked each other over, and sniffed the filthy gutter of humanities undercarriage, the psychotic smirk of Jonathan Butcher began to emerge from the stinking cesspit of human garbage.  This is a Butcher story alright.  This is Butcher through and through.

I guess one of the first things to point out about ‘The Children At The Bottom Of The Gardden’ is that it’s not one singular story.  Yeah it’s drenched in drugs and crime, but there’s so many different layers.  So much grit and grime and gut-wrench.  It forms the backdrop to the lives of all these uniquely different characters.  But ultimately the tale’s about them.  How their choices eventually bring them hurtling together.  It’s probably the most character driven novel I’ve read in years.  The characters are the absolute foundations, backbone and front-of-house of the tale.  Their individuality, their drives, downfalls and desires; it’s what ultimately feeds the tale.

The style Butcher adopts for the delivery of his story is a careful blend of satirical comedy, and social commentary, with a grittiness that feels like its somewhere between a Bret Easton Ellis offering and ‘The League Of Gentlemen’.  Not that the novel’s outwardly humorous in any way other than with the very darkest of humour.  In fact, if you find yourself smirking at the cruel antics displayed within this story of desperation, greed and abuse then you should probably take stock of a few things.  That said, I couldn’t help but crack a smile here and there.

So anyway, what can you expect?  Well, I’m sure you’ve picked up on the criminal underworld aspect from the above synopsis.  Along with that, you of course get crimes delightful siblings – greed, manipulation, retribution, malice and corruption.  Best friends with these is our old friend – the psychotic sociopath.  Here we have the drug baron’s second-in-command fulfilling this highly revered antagonist role – getting his kicks from torturing whoever he can with his big ole bag of solid steel friends.

So far we’ve got all the grit and grime of a nastyass underground crime novel.  However, we skip the serving suggestion of sticking with just this, and instead Butcher starts sprinkling in tell-tale signs of an altogether more fucked up novel.  You see Henry fackin Borders not only has a middle-aged tart hanging off his crime-furnished wallet, he also has a bigass Great Dane.  Where can we go with these two treasures in his life?  Oh yeah, of course, with a side helping of bestiality. 

Yep, things soon get pretty messed up.  And we haven’t even started on the disembodied children lurking at the bottom of Thomas’ garden.  So you see, there’s more than just a slight blending of genres in here.  It’s like a bomb’s gone off in a frigging paint factory.  Every vibrant vibe and colour of the underbelly of society is mixed in, amalgamated and used to paint a picture of something pretty fucking worrying.  My thoughts keep coming back to Bret Easton Ellis.  The shiny plastic coated sociopathic scariness of his writing.  The satirical horror.  It’s all in here.

But is it horror?  I’d say yes, there’s more horrific shit in this novel than you can shake one of Percy Locker’s disembowelling friends at.  There’s also the children.  The whispering, taunting, creepy-as-they-come children, who live in the thick undergrowth of Thomas’ garden.  Enough horror for ya?

One thing that really strikes you about this novel is the impact that the most memorable scenes have.  There’s a good few scenes that hit you like a sledgehammer to the face.  You know how ‘the tunneling rat scene’ in Ellis’ ‘American Psycho’ (1991) has kind of stayed with you ever since?  Or the rape of Tralala in ‘Last Exit To Brooklyn’ (1966)?  Or the ‘the baby’s soft spot’ in ‘The Wasp Factory’ (1984)?  Yeah, it’s impactful, memorable and (whether you want it to or not) etches some truly terrible images onto your mind.  Well, here we have Butcher delivering what can only be described as some gut-churningly realistic imagery of some fucking Great Dane anal buggery, with more detail and detrimental repercussions for the victim than you ever care to learn about.  What sort of online research did Butcher do to obtain such anatomical knowledge of dogs and humans in such a way?  Forget a cheeky visit to Porn Hub, this my curious friends is the fucking Armageddon-shit that incognito browsing was designed for.

Risqué research aside, I have to say that Butcher has once again shown his masterful skills as a writer.  The flow is pulsing with pace and energetic urgency from the get go.  The scenes are all incredibly, harrowingly vivid.  There’s a colourful, almost George A Romero-esque comicbook colour to everything.  Like the contrast is turned up a tad too much.  And it works perfectly.

I loved this tale.  You’ll love this tale.  It’s as maniacal as a lunatics dream after a midnight fondue party.  There’s about every possible emotion thrown onto the butcher’s slab to be cut up into bite-sized chunks.  You’ve got vicious displays of violence and revenge, deceit and dishonour rubbing shoulders with the unlikeliest displays of love and dedication.  You think you know a character.  You think you’ve got the sum of their cards counted.  Well think again.  Butcher keeps every plate spinning in this intrinsically elaborate tale.  Every character has an arch of their own.  It’s magnificently complex.  Ingeniously layered.  And ultimately, one motherfucker of a disturbingly-entertaining read.

The novel runs for a total of 492 pages.

© DLS Reviews





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