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The Only Child

by Andrew Pyper

JulyAugust_Reviews_TheOnlyChild_CoverThose who think the horror genre is dying may have to reassess after reading Andrew Pyper’s latest work. The Toronto writer’s eighth novel, a neo-gothic adventure with more blood-feeding than a vampire weekend, comes complete with taut sequences set in a variety of international locations: an abandoned Budapest asylum, an empty West End London theatre, a subterranean Romanian holding cell, and a remote trailer in Alaska.

Dr. Lily Dominick is a forensic psychiatrist in New York whose job it is to assess the city’s most dangerous criminals. She’s unflappable; at least until she confronts a nameless client – known only by the designation 46874-A – chained to a chair across from her. This anonymous figure calmly explains that he is 200 years old, knows her, and would like her to help him find his name. This sends Lily’s mind reeling back to the day her mother was killed, when Lily was only six years old. The interaction also triggers some daddy issues and before she knows it, client 46874-A has utterly infiltrated Lily’s life.

Reading his journal, Lily discovers that his preferred alias is Michael, the archangel and warrior saint. Lily’s connection to this man puts her in danger because there are shady characters with lots of money who are extremely interested in finding out how to live for 200 years. Pyper masterfully unfurls Michael’s story for the reader – he claims to be the real-life inspiration behind the three most famous horror novels of all time: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Of course, Lily assumes, he must be a delusional narcissist. But what if he’s not?

Even at those instances in which we know what’s coming, Pyper manages to leave his readers thirsty with anticipation at the scenarios he has devised. In one scene, Lily finds herself trapped, and though we are horrified, we can’t turn away, or stop reading for even a moment: “The claws tap against the metal skin of the trailer. A thousand scratches gouging through then pulling back until the wall is perforated and sharp as a cheese grater.’’

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.