Bestselling author Andrew Pyper returns with a riveting psychological thriller about how the people you’ve known your whole life can suddenly become strangers.
What if everything you knew about the people you loved was a lie?
After the death of their absentee father, Aaron and Bridge Quinlan travel to a vast rainforest property in the Pacific Northwest to hear the reading of his will. There, they meet up with their mother and troubled sister, Franny, and are shocked to discover the will’s terms: in order to claim their inheritance they must all remain at the estate for thirty days without any contact with the outside world. Despite their concerns, they agree.
The Quinlans soon come to learn their family has more secrets than they ever imagined—revelations that at first inspire curiosity, then fear. Why does Bridge have faint memories of the estate? Why did their father want them to be sequestered there together? And what is out there they feel pulling them into the dark heart of the woods?
The Homecoming is at once a gripping mystery, a chilling exploration of how our memories can both define and betray us, and a riveting page-turner that will have you questioning your very existence.
The Homecoming 1 WHEN MOM CALLED TO TELL me the news, I was surprised at first that Raymond Quinlan was capable of something so human as dying. We were given to understand that Dad was a man of many talents, but none we knew of was so great as his gift for disappearing. All our lives he would leave without saying when he would be back. It could be days or weeks or months. Long enough that just when you thought this time he wouldn’t return, he did. Without warning, unburdened by guilt or explanations. But now he’d gone somewhere there was no coming back from, and it was almost disappointing, the end of his mysterious life coming not by way of stunning revelations or secret agents knocking at the door but the inevitable way it comes for all of us.
Less than an hour after I got off the phone with Mom, a woman called saying she was “a representative of your father’s estate” and that a car would come first thing in the morning to pick me up. When I asked where this car would take me, I was told it would be a journey requiring a day away, the destination “necessarily confidential.”
That “necessarily” irked me. A word my father would use to answer why he couldn’t say where he went. It implied we should appreciate the complicated circumstances behind things having to be this way, his importance, the triviality of our need to understand.
You’ll never tell us where you go, will you? I asked him once, though what I really wanted to know was if he ever missed us when he was gone.
No, Aaron. I’m afraid I won’t.
Because it’s a secret?
Yes, he answered sadly. A sadness for me, his tone made clear, not something he felt himself. Necessarily so.
• • •
The limo stops before I can ask Bridge more about her being here before. The driver pulls open the back door and speaks for the first time since we started out this morning, asking for our cell phones.
“Why do you want them?”
“Protocol,” he mumbles, the accent hinting at Russian, his fat palm thrust a little too close to my face.
“What do we do?” Bridge asks me.
“You expecting any important calls in the next hour?”
“Me neither. So let’s humor them and play by the rules.”
We hand our phones over to the driver, who sticks them in the pocket of his blazer and, without another word, returns to sit in the front seat, leaving us to get out. He eases the limo away to park next to another just like it at the edge of a circular gravel area outside what must be the castle Dad spoke of in his stories.
What’s the best word to describe it? Not “castle,” certainly. Not “mansion” either, or “home” or “cabin” or “hotel.” My mind can’t stop thinking of it as a lodge, despite its enormity, the stateliness of its clean-lined, modernist construction. It’s the walls made from whole redwood logs that does it. Flat-roofed and maybe a little more than a hundred and fifty feet wide, with a facade that consists of a single floor with few windows, the structure’s main features are the oversized front door with its polished brass knob and Frank Lloyd Wright–inspired metalwork of the railings. It’s a building that communicates its expense through its extraordinary natural materials in place of ostentatious grandeur.
“Do we go inside?” Bridge asks.
“I don’t really want to.”
This is out before I can prevent it, and I can see how it troubles Bridge. How she doesn’t want to enter either. She’s fourteen, and I’m twenty-two years older. A gap so wide you might assume we aren’t close, but we are. We’ve made a point of it. My job is to be her dad-in-place-of-a-dad, offering advice on the rare occasions she asks for it, and her job is to make me feel like I’m not alone in the world.
“Let’s explore a bit,” I add, as casually as I can.
“You’re the one who’s been here before. You pick.”
Bridge looks around. We both do. There’s a utility building off to the right at the edge of the trees where I assume the tools and maintenance machinery is kept, though there are no windows to look through to confirm this. I also note how its single door is padlocked.
On either side of the parking area are a number of trailheads leading off into the trees in different directions. Four in total, each with a small sign on a metal post. I have to squint to read the words: Red, Green, Yellow, Orange. The kind of generic route names you’d find on a corporate campus. I try to peer along the trails to see where they lead, but each of them, after a couple dozen yards, takes a turn and disappears into the uninterrupted woods.
“How about Green?” Bridge says.
We start toward the closest trailhead to our right. The trees seem to grow closer together as we approach, forcing our lines of sight to press into the spaces between their trunks only to be stopped by the trees behind them, again and again. It makes me think of looking into a mirror reflected in a second mirror, so that the image within the glass repeats itself into a bending, infinite curve.
“You first,” Bridge tells me, nudging my back with her elbow.
It’s meant to be funny, and we both force out a laugh, but neither of us move.
A memory has come at me so hard I feel it as a punch to the top of my chest, a fist that passes through skin, grasping and cold.
There seems to be little pattern to what brings it back. The forest, in this case. One that makes me remember a different forest. The men who emerged out of it, whooping and calling out names in a language I didn’t understand. The blades they swung over their heads, catching winks of the sun.
A buried piece of a different life.
I force myself to go forward. Two steps into the trees.
“You hear that?”
Bridge doesn’t answer, only pivots to look in the direction the sound came from. Movement through the trees. Sleek and dark and coming fast.
“Another car,” she says.
We watch it ease to a stop in front of the lodge, the driver opening the back door and extending his hand for the passenger’s phone just as ours had done. A second later our mother steps out.
“Hey!” Bridge shouts, and runs off. There’s a strange dawning of recognition on Mom’s face as she watches her daughter come and throw her arms around her as if they’d been separated by an absence of years instead of hours.
I’m about to make my way to join them when the hushed woods are interrupted by another sound. Not a car this time. A shuffling approach on the trail we were about to start on.
There’s a temptation to pretend I hadn’t heard it and run off as Bridge had. But my mother and little sister are here, and I’m the eldest son. Despite my fear, despite the memory of overseas, there is this—what I am in the family: the surgeon, stable and mature, committed to helping others. I can’t run even if it’s what I want to do more than anything else.
I have to tell myself all this in order to turn and look.
A figure makes its way toward me. Coming up a slope so that first its head, then its shoulders and legs become visible like a body rising up out of the ground. A woman. Gangly and slight, her arms flapping birdishly out from her sides.
She sounds different from when I last spoke to her, though that was almost a year ago, at Nate’s funeral. Her son. Yet I can still recognize the scratchy, sarcastic tone as Franny’s. My other sister, though the truth is I’ve never really thought of her that way. She was always something else before that. A phone call from the emergency room or police station in the middle of the night. A poisonous fog I tried to stay ahead of. Most of the time growing up it was like Franny was only waiting until she could move out and get into truly serious trouble.
Now here she is, a year younger than me but looking a dozen years older, half jogging my way in the ungainly, loping manner of someone whose legs are asleep.
“You beat us here,” I say.
“I went for a walk. But I got spooked out there all on my own. That’s a lot of trees. Too much nothing for this city girl.” She glances over my shoulder. “Is that Mom?”
“She just pulled in.”
“Well, the gang’s all here then.”
Franny stands a few feet farther from me than she ought to. Taking me in. Comparing the man in front of her to the profile of me she’d framed in her mind. How long would she have to go back into her years of hustling and needles to find a picture she could recall in any detail?
“I’d say ‘Sorry about Dad,’ but I’m not sure what that really means,” I say.
“It means he’s gone. Even more than he was when he was alive.”
“That pretty much nails it.”
She takes a half step closer to me. “Before we go inside, it’s important for me— I want you to know something, Aaron.”
“I’m different now.”
She searches my face for doubt. And I try to hide it. To not show, through some involuntary grimace or narrowed eyes, how many times I’ve heard this before from her. Sometimes through tears, sometimes in furious accusation, though mostly conveyed with the same stony conviction she speaks with now. It’s convincing. As convincing as it was five years ago when she told me she was pregnant, and during the days in and out of rehab after Nate was born.
For almost her entire adult life, being an addict has been Franny’s sole occupation. I’m sure she’d correct me about the past tense. Even recovered addicts are still addicts, the disease in remission but never wholly erased. I’m a doctor; I know I’m supposed to embrace this understanding of why people—why my sister—would devote herself to her own destruction from the first day she sneaked a twenty from our mother’s purse. It wasn’t a lack of will, not a flaw of character, but the bad luck of having contracted a virus. And as a disease is never asked for, it has the power to excuse all cruelties and neglect committed along the way.
But the truth is, I can’t talk myself out of seeing Franny the same way I see myself. An escape artist. I ran from my life, and she did too, if only figuratively, following a trail of fixes instead of twenty-six-mile courses through the streets of different cities.
In both cases, you collapse at the end.
In both cases, you finish where you started.
And now here Franny is telling me she’s broken the cycle. Underweight and with a twitchy uncertainty to the way she shapes her face, as if constantly adjusting an emotional dial between dead and insane, searching for the human midpoint. But not stoned. Her words clear and firm even if the rest of her isn’t. And as for making a change, I should know it’s possible. I did it for Bridge. Maybe Franny has done it as a memorial to her own child.
“I’m on a new path,” she says. “And I’m not talking about all the stuff that’s happened with the government and the police and the camps—that’s made it different for all of us. I’m talking about me. A new direction.”
“I can see that.”
“No, you can’t. Because it’s not on the outside, not something you can see. It’s not just that I’m sober now. And it’s not only about losing Nate. It’s me. I’ve turned things around. I work in a shelter now, did you know that?”
“I think Mom mentioned something.”
“Doing good work in a bad place.”
“That’s great, Franny. Really.”
But she doesn’t want to hear my words of support. This, it’s clear by her rigid jaw and hands gripped into pale-knuckled fists, is a prepared speech that must be spoken aloud, regardless of the audience. She’s doing it to hold herself together, to prove that she is inching beyond the range of grief, that she can exist here in what remains of our father’s shadow.
“Whatever happens today—whatever Dad left for us—I’m giving it to the shelter. That’s the only reason I’ve come. I’m going to pick up my check, get right back into that limo, and do something positive with what I have.”
“I believe you,” I say. And I do.
I can’t attest to whether or not my sister will go back to using once she returns to the city, but I’m certain she will do this. I know what it’s like to make a sharp turn, to give shape to life by way of one big move. After that, however, all bets are off.
“It’s good to see you, big brother,” she says, and surprises me by wrapping her scrawny arms around my neck and pulling in close. She smells of lemony soap and coconut hair conditioner and lilac body spray. She smells clean.
Andrew Pyper is the author of The Only Child, which was an instant national bestseller in Canada. He is also the author of six previous novels, including The Demonologist, which won the International Thriller Writers award for Best Hardcover Novel and was selected for TheGlobe and Mail’s Best 100 Books of 2013 and Amazon’s 20 Best Books of 2013. The Killing Circle was a New York Times Best Crime Novel of the Year. Four of Pyper’s novels, including The Damned, are in active development for feature film. He lives in Toronto. Visit AndrewPyper.com or @AndrewPyper.
“[A] brilliant thriller . . . readers will be invested in the thoughtfully constructed characters. Fans of Josh Malerman’s Bird Box will be pleased.” — PUBLISHERS WEEKLY, starred review
“A thriller of ominous betrayal that dips into paranoia and the paranormal . . . Pyper’s petrifying imagination comes through in the details. The Homecoming creates a battle between the reader’s faith in what they know about their own histories and the leery possibility of treachery emerging out of nowhere . . . By the time the characters surrender to psychological terror, the reader has relinquished whatever idea of security they had before beginning the book.” — THE GLOBE AND MAIL
“A bizarre and innovative take on the cabin-in-the-woods suspense story. . . . [with] a series of inventive plot twists that Pyper mounts for the readers’ delight, pulling them off with his usual sharp and highly visual prose style.” — TORONTO STAR
“Every bit as chilling and creepy as you’d expect.” — CHATELAINE
“[A] weird, wonderful, audacious new novel . . . descends, at first slowly and then with almost dizzying speed, into an abyss of shattered memories, disquieting dreams, and an evil that borders on the surreal. . . . Brilliantly constructed and absolutely mesmerizing, this could very well be the best book yet by the author.” — BOOKLIST, starred review
“A skilful blend of horror, science fiction and family drama. . . . Pyper is a masterful plotter . . . a clean, clear and subtly affecting writer who is underappreciated as a stylist, who lulls readers and then grabs them by their throats. The Homecoming is an excellent novel . . . and might be Pyper’s best book.” — WINNIPEG FREE PRESS
A Paradies Lagardere March 2019 pick.
“Part macabre family drama, part chilling dystopian nightmare, The Homecoming is the kind of story that could only spring from the darkest imagination. Pyper is a master of the artful thriller, and Belfountain, the mysterious mansion at the centre of this terrifying novel, might be one of the most eerily realized hellscapes ever. The last page is a jaw-dropper.” — LISA GABRIELE, bestselling author of The Winters
“Pyper has the unique ability to write beautiful, relaxing sentences which, two hours later, have me sleeping with all the lights on and jumping every time the dog barks. The Homecoming is both heartwarming yet utterly terrifying. There’s no doubt that Pyper is a genuine craftsman of our time.” — ROZ NAY, bestselling author of Our Little Secret
“The Homecoming begins as a story about a family thrown together in the strangest of circumstances. From there, Pyper uses deft plotting to bring readers through twisty turns and dark woods to an ending that’s both surprising and exactly right. Pyper is a gifted storyteller with a penchant for the super creepy, and with The Homecoming he’s at his very best.” — AMY STUART, bestselling author of Still Water and Still Mine
PRAISE FOR THE ONLY CHILD
“Gothic fans, rejoice! . . . An addictive cycle of cliffhanger chapter endings, quick resolutions, and taut, punchy sentences.” — THE GLOBE AND MAIL
“Pyper upends genre conventions once again . . . a high-concept dark fantasy novel . . . Lily's journey with a monster who inspired the very literary tradition Pyper so skillfully exploits provides . . . a satisfying confrontation with darkness, both personal and mythological, that readers expect from the best horror.” — TORONTO STAR
“So you're reading The Only Child, Pyper's newest book, and suddenly—kaboom!—the story is shot like a cannon blast across a very dark sky. Exactly the sort of light we pine for.” — JOSH MALERMAN, author of Bird Box and Black Mad Wheel
“A seductive gothic thriller for the modern age. Crafted with dark intrigue and cinematic drive, this mesmerizing journey into the heart of a monster is, at once, compelling, eerie and brilliantly satisfying.” — AMI MCKAY, author of The Witches of New York
"As much a psychological inquiry as it is an adrenaline-fueled thriller, layered with menace, mystery, and startling revelations that span centuries. A book that begs to be read in one sitting, with the doors locked, the lights low, and a sharp knife and a jug of holy water within reach, just in case." — BENJAMIN PERCY, author of The Dead Lands, Thrill Me, Red Moon and The Wilding
“Andrew Pyper has concocted a darkly entrancing tale that sweeps you off your feet from its first pages. Filled with deliriously clever nods to the grand Gothic tradition, The Only Child is also fiercely original, wildly provocative and utterly satisfying, beginning to end.” — MEGAN ABBOTT, bestselling author of The Fever and You Will Know Me
“Pyper has honed his craft as finely as Michael has honed his murderous impulses. This makes for a propulsive read, and will help this book make a smooth transition when it inevitably makes the leap to the big screen.” — QUILL & QUIRE
“Andrew Pyper’s The Only Child cleverly re-imagines the 19th century gothic classics while spinning a thrilling, touching, and distinctly 21st century monster story.” — PAUL TREMBLAY, author of A Head Full of Ghosts and Disappearance at Devil’s Rock
“Pyper writes beautiful, scary books that would keep Robert Louis Stevenson up at night.” — ROBERT ROTENBERG, author of Stray Bullets and Old City Hall
“Pyper’s writing is gripping, and readers will undoubtedly make comparisons to Stephen King.” — LIBRARY JOURNAL
“International horror royalty (often compared to the crowned ruler, Stephen King).” — METRO CANADA