An eerie and absorbing novel following a criminal psychologist who has discovered shocking and possibly dangerous connections between a serial killer and her stepdaughter.
Criminal psychologist Seonkyeong receives an unexpected call one day. Yi Byeongdo, a serial killer whose gruesome murders shook the world, wants to be interviewed. Yi Byeongdo, who has refused to speak to anyone until now, asks specifically for her. Seonkyeong agrees out of curiosity.
That same day Hayeong, her husband’s eleven-year-old daughter from a previous marriage, shows up at their door after her grandparents, with whom she lived after her mother passed away, die in a sudden fire. Seonkyeong wants her to feel at home, but is gradually unnerved as the young girl says very little and acts strangely.
At work and at home, Seonkyeong starts to unravel the pasts of the two new arrivals in her life and begins to see startling similarities. Hayeong looks at her the same way Yi Byeongdo does when he recounts the abuse he experienced as a child; Hayeong’s serene expression masks a temper that she can’t control. Plus, the story she tells about her grandparents’ death, and her mother’s before that, deeply troubles Seonkyeong. So much so that Yi Byeongdo picks up on it and starts giving her advice.
Written with exquisite precision and persistent creepiness, The Only Child is psychological suspense at its very best.
Thanks to NetGalley for this ARC!
THE ONLY CHILD is a very dark book that explores the mind of a fictional serial killer while contrasting his behavior with Hayeong, the main character’s stepdaughter. Seonkyeong is a criminal psychologist who is summoned to prison to interview the notorious killer Yi Byeongdo. As she delves deeper into his mind through his stories, she notices how his mannerisms mirror that of 11-year-old Hayeong, who has recently come to live with her and her husband after a fire destroys her house.
The story is told from multiple points of view, with a concerted effort to make Byeongdo appear somewhat sympathetic. Hayeong is a manipulative little girl and I disliked her immediately. Seonkyeong’s husband brings his daughter into the house and soon becomes an absentee father, only seeing the “good” side of the girl.
The plot could have used a bit of tightening up, as it takes a while to establish Hayeong’s dark side. There is a longish portion regarding the “punishment” of a cat which could have been shorter yet still convey the latent evil that was lurking that day. There is also a series of dithering by Seonkyeong in which she alternately fears the girl, then feels sorry for her due to the tragedies that have befallen her. She seems almost blind to the danger that Hayeong poses to her family.
Most of the action occurs around the last 15% of the book, as the serial killer escapes jail while the tension between the psychologist and the girl comes to a head. The ending itself is a shocker yet I felt it wasn’t a surprise.
None of these characters are truly given life; I am not sure if it is due to the original work being translated, or if it is the writer’s style. (Click here for information on more Korean mysteries being translated into English.) There is only the briefest of backstory and Seonkyeong is not portrayed as a strong female character. Certainly someone of her background would have better sense regarding Hayeong’s penchant for evil. Again, this could be due to the culture, as Asian women are not known for taking the lead and being dominant. In any case, I wish she had been given more of a backbone, especially as she began discovering Hayeong’s secrets.
I would like to see a sequel to this book to see what happens next with the characters. The ending does leave room for another story, and I can imagine different plot twists taking place. All in all, not a bad read. Want your own copy? You can pick it up here.