The Only Child: A Neo-Gothic Tale

What do you get when you mix 1 part Jame Rollins thriller, 2 parts Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian and then stir vigorously with a Dean Koontz swizzle-stick? You get Andrew Pyper’s latest, The Only Child, a modern spin on the Gothic novel.

Gothic fiction has been with us since the early 1800’s. Most people think of such classics as Dracula, The Scarlet Letter or Frankenstein’s Monster when they think of the golden age of the genre. Pyper both tries to explain the genre as well as fit into it but in a modern context.

Pyper hooked me as an author a couple years ago when I found his book, The Demonologist. That book literally kept me up at night. And while this latest release doesn’t quite reach the same terrifying levels of that previous novel, there is plenty here to love.

As a young child, Lily Dominick, our main heroine, witnessed her mother’s murder, a suposed bear attack, in a wilderness cabin, but Lily herself was saved by a passing truck driver. However, this is just the official story. Lily has another, more fantastical memory. When she dreams she remembers her mother being mutilated by some kind of actual monster, and that she was saved from by a mysterious Pegasus-type creature. Weird, right?

Now grown up, Lily Dominick is a criminal phychiatrist and she meets a unique, nameless, patient who is in the custody of the state after committing a pretty horrific crime. However, just as he reveals he only did the crime to meet her, he escapes from the psych ward leaving a bloody trail behind him. He then leads her on a journey of horror and self discovery across old world Europe.

Without giving too much away, the patient is much more than he at first seems and through him Pyper attempts to explain the initial inspiration for the birth of gothic fiction. Three classic authors, Stoker, Shelley and Stevenson actually get cameos in the story. Even though the atmospheric romps through eastern Europe are almost a cliche of the genre at this point, I still enjoy the ride.

In fact, ride is a good way to describe this novel. I’ve seen some criticism that points out that this book is a fast read, not the slowly developing, atmospheric, ballad that many traditional gothic novels are. And the critics are right, but I think they are missing the point. Pyper did not set out to write a 19th century gothic tale, he was trying to reinvent the genre for modern audiences, and in that I think he succedded quite well. Sometimes people critique the book they wanted the author to write, not the one in their hands.

There is one flaw though, the length. It is just too short. I would have enjoyed a slower role out of some of the subplots and a little more time getting to know the protagonist before throwing her into peril. But I am nitpicking, any novel that can force me to finish it in three days is a great story as far as I’m concerned.