Bestselling author Andrew Pyper returns with a thrilling new novel about one woman’s search for a mad killer, and the unsettling relationship that binds them.
What if you learned your father wasn’t who you thought he was? What if you learned you carried secrets deep within your blood?
Dr. Lily Dominick has seen her fair share of bizarre cases as a forensic psychiatrist working with some of New York’s most dangerous psychotic criminals. But nothing can prepare Lily for her newest patient.
Client 46874-A is nameless, and insists that he is not human. He tells Lily that he was not born, but created over two hundred years ago, and that he wants Lily to know what he is. As she listens to this man describe the twisted crime he’s committed, she can’t shake the feeling that he’s come for her—especially once he reveals that he knew her mother.
Lily Dominick was only six years old when her mother was violently murdered while Lily sat unscathed in the next room of their cabin. Investigators assumed it was a bear attack, but she has never been sure about what really happened that day. Now, this madman—this monster—may have the answers she’s been searching for.
When he suddenly escapes from the hospital and kills Lily’s boss, she does the unthinkable. She sets out on a hunt for the killer, not to return him to the authorities, but to unlock the mysteries he holds to her past.
The Only Child is a riveting thriller that asks dangerous questions about family ties that are bred and born in the blood.
The Only Child 1 She was awakened by the monster knocking at the door.
Lily knows better than most how unlikely it is that this is real. Through her years of training and now her days in the courtroom providing expert testimony on psychological states of mind, she has learned how shaky the recollections of children can be. And she was only six when it happened. The age when certain things get stuck in the net of real memory, and other things you try to sell yourself on having happened but are in fact made up, turned into convincing bits of dream.
What is verifiably known is that Lily was small for her age, green-eyed, her straight black hair snarled into a nest. The sole survivor. And there was the body, of course. Her mother’s.
She rereads the documents the authorities submitted the same way others return to old love letters or family photo albums, tracing the outlines of faces. It’s an act of remembrance, but something more too. She’s looking for the missing link. Because though the coroner and police reports seem decisive enough, plausible enough, she can see all the ways the facts were stretched to connect to other facts with long strings of theory in between. It was a story assembled to close a file. A terrible, but not unprecedented, northern tale of an animal attack: a creature of considerable size—a bear, almost certainly, drawn by scents of cooked meat and human sweat—had forced its way into their cabin a couple hundred miles short of the Arctic Circle in Alaska and torn her mother apart, leaving Lily undiscovered in her bedroom, where she’d hidden from the screams.
Acceptable on the face of it, as such stories are designed to be. Yet there was so much that wasn’t known it made for a narrative that collapsed upon itself at the merest prodding. Why, for instance, had the bear not eaten her mother? Where could it have gone that the hunters who went after it only a day later failed to find its tracks?
The most puzzling part was how she made it out of the woods.
Three miles to the only road that led, after a two-hour drive, to Fairbanks. The trail to the cabin a set of muddy ruts in summer, but in the subzero depths of February impossible to reach except by snowmobile, and her mother’s Kawasaki remained untouched at the site. When and why did she eventually leave the cabin? How did she get through the woods all on her own?
The year she turned thirty Lily spent her summer vacation conducting an investigation of her own. She traveled north to see the cabin for herself and walked from the site through an aspen forest to the rusting trailer her mother had called their “secret place.” She spoke with all the people she could find who were mentioned in the reports.
That was how she came to meet one of the hunters who’d assisted on the case. An old man by the time she took a seat next to the bed where he lay in an old-age home for Native Americans in Anchorage. A man old enough to have nothing to lose and grateful for the visit of a young woman.
“My name is Lily,” she told him. “Lily Dominick? When I was a girl—”
“I remember you.”
“The one the bear didn’t touch.” He shook his head with a kind of sad amusement, as if at the recollection of a practical joke gone wrong. “Except it wasn’t a bear.”
“How do you know?”
“Marks in the snow,” he answered, running his fingers through the air to indicate legs. “From the cabin to some birch about a quarter mile in. And not bear tracks either.”
“That wasn’t in the report.”
“It wouldn’t be. I told the dumb suit about it—the federal investigator—but he didn’t even bother looking because he said the snow had blown it clear. But I saw them fine. Not a machine, not snowshoes. Not boots.”
He smiled and showed her the half dozen stumps of his teeth. “The closest thing? What I told the dumb suit? A horse.”
“A horse,” Lily repeated. It wasn’t a question. It was to hear from her own mouth something at once impossible and deeply known.
“The suits never put that in any of the write-ups. ‘To avoid embarrassment.’ Mine, I guess,” the old man said. “Because there’s no wild horses in Alaska. And no kept horse could have made it through snow that deep even if one had been hauled up that far. It couldn’t have gotten in, which means it couldn’t have gotten out.”
It left the question of what happened to be answered by a hypothesis supported by a patchwork of forensics and animal behavior testimony. Lily had been of little help. Deemed unreliable given her age, and traumatized by the shock of losing her only parent. What made her version of events all the more dismissible was the obvious fantasy she’d created. She’d spoken of the dark outline of a ghoul bent over her mother’s form, followed by the appearance of a magical creature that carried her out of the bush on its back. Being a psychiatrist now, Lily knew it to be true: children made things up all the time, not only for pleasure, but sometimes to survive.
Even today she “remembers” things from that night. A handful of details recalled with the clarity of a lived event.
She was awakened by the monster knocking at the door.
She thinks of it as this, as a monster, because she knows it wasn’t a bear. Because bears don’t knock before entering. Because the one difference between animals and people is that animals don’t murder, they hunt.
The Only Child By Andrew Pyper Reading Group Guide
This reading group guide for The Only Child includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
Dr. Lily Dominick has seen her share of bizarre cases as a forensic psychiatrist working with some of New York’s most dangerous psychotic criminals. But nothing can prepare Lily for her newest patient.
Client 46874-A is nameless. He insists that he is not human, and believes that he was not born, but created over two hundred years ago. As Lily listens to this man describe the twisted crime he’s committed, she can’t shake the feeling that he’s come for her—especially once he reveals something she would have thought impossible: He knew her mother.
Lily was only six years old when her mother was violently killed in what investigators concluded was a bear attack. But even though she was there, even though she saw it, Lily has never been certain of what really happened that night. Now, this stranger may hold the answers to the questions she’s buried deep within herself all her life. That’s when he escapes.
To discover the truth—behind her client, her mother’s death, herself—Lily must embark on a journey that will threaten her career, her sanity, and ultimately her life.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. Discuss the importance of names in the novel. Why is Michael’s character introduced without a name, and how did that affect your understanding of his character?
2. Lily is often described as being isolated from others throughout the novel. How did her isolation affect her decision to go in search of Michael and the truth about her past?
3. Mental health plays an important role throughout the novel. Is mental health conflated with the supernatural in the novel? Why or why not?
4. Discuss the structure of the book. What effect does alternating between the past and present have on the story? How do the flashbacks relate to the theme of memory in the book?
5. Michael leaves pages from his diary in Lily’s apartment after he kills Dr. Edmunston. How do the pages guide Lily in her hunt for Michael?
6. Lily “mistrusts people for a living.” Does this lack of trust help or hinder her in the search for Michael?
7. Is Lily a trustworthy character? Why or why not?
8. Discuss the significance of the literary references throughout the novel. Is there one literary character that Michael most closely resembles, or does he possess different traits from each monster?
9. Even though she was only six years old when her mother died, Lily seems to have inherited many attributes from her mother. Discuss how Lily is similar to her mother. How is she similar to her father?
10. Does Lily ever come to terms with who her father is? If so, when and how?
11. If Michael’s character is based on Dracula, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and Frankenstein, what literary character do you think Lily is inspired by?
12. Discuss the significance of the title.
Enhance Your Book Club
1. In the novel, Michael believes he personally inspired the following literary characters: Dracula, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and Frankenstein. Read the books by Bram Stoker, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Mary Shelley and consider the connections between Michael and the original literary monsters.
2. Michael was created by Dr. Tivadar Eszes on the grounds of the Lipótmezei Sanatorium in 1811—a building that still stands today, long ago abandoned by its doctors and patients. Are there any abandoned sanatoriums in your area?
3. Check out more of Andrew Pyper’s books, such as The Damned and The Demonologist. To find out more about Andrew, visit andrewpyper.com, or follow him on twitter @andrewpyper.
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.
“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, bestselling author of The Witches of New York
"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
"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's writing is gripping, and readers will undoubtedly make comparisons to Stephen King."