Can serial killers be identified while still children? A new Korean thriller, The Only Child, attempts to answer that question by merging a family drama with a jailed serial killer’s tale.
Beginning with a police procedural investigating a series of arsons, the book then tells the first-person tale of a child wandering unhurt at the scene of the fifth fire. When her grandparents are found dead in their bed, she is placed in her father’s home. Her abusive mother is dead and she has nowhere else to go.
In a parallel story, young professor Seonkyeong is asked by the police to interview notorious serial killer, Yi Byeongdo. It seems he has been asking for her by name. The police want her to entice the convicted murderer of thirteen women to tell her about other missing women he killed. But what does he want?
Seonkyeong believes that serial killers show signs of their future aberrant behavior as children—bed wetting, arson, and animal cruelty. Yi Byeongdo had those traits. But so does Seonkyeong’s new stepdaughter, the young girl discovered at the recent fire. Does that mean her stepdaughter is destined to be a serial killer?
Comparing a plot that is being copied almost word-for-word with the title of its source material doesn’t make the copying suddenly okay. Half of The Only Child is a direct lifting of the setup of Silence of the Lambs. Combining it with a domestic thriller didn’t work. What are the odds that all of these unlikely events would occur at the same time to an obscure college professor?
Unfortunately, I can’t recommend this mishmash of twice-told tales. 2 stars.
Thanks to Ecco, HarperCollins Publishers and NetGalley for a copy in exchange for my honest review.