BookDragon Books for the Diverse Reader

The Only Child by Mi-Ae Seo, translated by Yewon Jung [in Shelf Awareness]

Bestselling Korean author Mi-ae Seo uses her screenwriting chops in The Only Child, a tautly plotted creepfest that already feels celluloid-ready. Making her English-language debut, Seo delves into the minds of those on opposite sides of the law. The incarcerated serial killer Yi Byeongdo, who previously eschewed all queries, has specifically requested an interview with criminal psychologist Seonkyeong. While the personal solicitation seems confoundingly random, Seonkyeong’s curiosity as to why this enigmatic murderer seeks her attention is an opportunity she can’t dismiss.

Meanwhile, at home, Seonkyeong faces another surprising entreaty. Her husband, Jaeseong, arrives with his 11-year-old daughter, Hayeong, in tow, nervously asking if the child might stay; she’s become homeless after a fire killed her grandparents, with whom she’s been living since the death of her mother, Jaeseong’s first wife. Seonkyeong immediately makes every effort to welcome the girl. Her psychologist mind instinctively goes on high alert at Hayeong’s unpredictable behavior, which wavers from nonresponsive to violent outbursts, but Seonkyeong ignores her inner alarms and accepts Hayeong as a suffering victim – until she can’t.

Seo makes her readers privy to more knowledge than any of her characters have, revealing abusive mothers, an Edenic apple orchard, the triggering qualities of the Beatles’ “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer.” Her criminal focus perhaps overshadows less essential details (What does the new puppy do all day locked up alone in Hayeong’s room? How can a medical doctor seem to know so little about doctoring?) but any potential missteps seem negligible when appreciating the sly, hair-raising manipulations by book’s end. Trust no one.

Discover: In this chilling creepfest, a criminal psychologist confronts brutal deaths at work – and suddenly at home as well.

Review: “Mystery & Thriller,” Shelf Awareness, March 3, 2020

Readers: Adult

Published: 2010 (Korea), 2020 (United States)


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