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Good books to read this summer – The Killing of Butterfly Joe by Rhidian Brook

Review by Bridget Osborne

Good books to read this summer – The Killing of Butterfly Joe by Rhidian Brook 4 August 2018

The Killing of Butterfly Joe’ by Rhidian Jones is a road trip book set in 1987; ‘a love letter to the America I experienced’ says the author, evoking the spirit of a different time and revisiting his ’23 year old, hedonistic, slightly selfish’ self.

Rhidian, who lives in Barnes, is TV and film script writer (Silent Witness, Africa United) whose first novel ‘The Testimony Of Taliesin Jones’ won the 1997 Somerset Maugham Award and was subsequently made into a film starring Jonathan Pryce and Ian Bannen. His book ‘The Aftermath’, based on his grandfather’s experiences in postwar Germany, has also been made into a film, starring Keira Knightley, which is due for release next March.

The Killing of Butterfly Joe’ is about a young Welsh writer who, as the result of a chance meeting, finds himself travelling 32 states of the USA selling exotic butterflies in glass cases. So far, so autobiographical. The Joe of the title is the based on the real life salesman and botanical explorer he met in Jamaica, where the man was looking for the world’s second largest butterfly, the Giant Swallowtail. An ‘iconoclast’, a larger than life character whose passion and belief led the real Rhidian and fictional Llew astray, on an epic adventure.

The book is hard to characterize. It’s kind of a thriller, in that you know something bad is going to happen from the outset, but it’s much lighter in tone. “I wanted to make people smile” he told me. “It’s an arm wrestle between tragedy and comedy.” The characters are fun and the style is original. When introducing Rhidian at the Hay Festival this year, Director Peter Florence described the book as ‘Brideshead Revisited meets the Dukes of Hazzard,’ which I think is a very apt description. It has the foreboding and weight and the carelessness of gilded youth of Brideshead and the comedy and zany, sassy, I-can-take-on-the-world Americanness of the Dukes of Hazzard.

It is a thoroughly enjoyable read, which has attracted comments such as: ‘A wonderful entertainment. A thoroughly readable and appealingly eccentric book’ (the Times), ‘a boldly unique … beautiful story beautifully told … with a brilliantly teased out sense of dread’ (Culturefly) and ‘An exuberant, coming-of-age romp … bittersweet comedy of sentimental education … larger-than-life fun’ (Daily Mail). Available in hardback from all good book stores for £14.99 (paperback due next February). It too looks set to become a film, so if you are one of those people who likes to boast ‘I’ve read the book; the book was better’, best run out and buy it now!