With a teetering to-read pile and a mobius strip of to-do lists, I gleefully took the offer to review the upcoming Andrew Pyper novel, ‘The Only Child’, when asked by Simon and Schuster Canada.
After enjoying Pyper’s previous work, ‘The Damned’ and ‘The Demonologist’, plus having a chance to sit down with him when the Dark Side Tour hit Ottawa in 2015, I dug into this new novel the same day it came. I tempered this knowing that even if he wrote about characters I didn’t connect with, the book would be well written and allow me to see what his latest work had to offer. That’s a very off chance considering I’d heard there were elements of my darlings like Mary Shelley and Bram Stoker in the story.
My initial feelings were if Thomas Harris were charged with telling the tale of Anne Rice’ Taltos, we would be in the same woods Pyper leads us to. There is no denying the similarities to the familiar federal agent and her charge, the deranged doctor. Their demeanour and cold language, the quid pro quo nature of their interactions, the stark institutional setting, and the nature of the crimes our villain Client 46874-A commited to win an audience with our very deeply flawed hero, Dr. Lily Dominick.
Before too long we are enraptured with the small puzzle posed to Lily by her now escaped patient, and her being the titular ‘Only Child’ carries so much more resonance than the deceptively simple title suggests. As the story winds through the shattered psyche of the main characters, and the intercontinental pilgrimage the blending of their lives turns into for Lily, the reader is presented with some extraordinary implications. Not only are threads woven through the tapestry that is historical gothic horror literature here, but Pyper pulls them all slowly to bunch so much lore around one character the effect is stunning. When you step back, the tapestry has folded into itself only to become all at once flower and fruit. Whether or not his intention was a light hearted suggestion that there could indeed be a central fount to our classic horror writers inspirations, the effect of that suggestion is quite profound. You can’t leave this book without thinking about how wondrous this would be if true. A feeling so many have when pondering the tragic and powerful life of Count Dracula or Victor Frankenstein and trying as best we can with limited scope what it would be like to live a life even remotely similar.
Here we have the life story of such a creature. Without having to thrust this improbable person into a landscape we all know and trust, somehow Pyper takes that place we live and recognize and forces us to see his own creation hidden within all of it. A massive feat, when you think about it, and the exact reason I immediately wanted to read it again. Mobius strip style, to-read pile be damned.
Perhaps it is so hard hitting and engaging because it is written in the present tense. Expertly so, at that, since there is some storytelling of past events that I hesitate to term flashbacks even if that is what they are. They are memories, dreams, or stories within stories. These blend expertly into the timeline of the tale so that not once is this narrative tactic jarring. Another reason this story was so entrancing is the hints and breadcrumbs leading deeper into the forest of history, fiction and fear itself. Even those who only flirt with horror from time to time will delight in the glints of other mythologies here, and the serious student should be entirely dazzled. From body horror, psychological thriller, and pure terror, ‘The Only Child’ hits so many marks without being a messy crossfire that even when only grazing you, this book inflicts a raw flesh wound.
Visit Andrew Pyper online at his site, and do hunt down his other books!