Seonkyeong is in the prime of her life – newly married, with a promising career in lecturing criminal psychology. Perhaps this is why she receives an unexpected phone call from the Director of the Association of Criminal Psychology. He explains that a recently arrested serial killer, who has not said a word in custody, has requested an interview with her. Having never met the murderer, Seonkyeong is baffled as to his request, but agrees to help the Director and the police by conducting the interview and finding out where the other victims are.
However, the first interview does not go to plan. Seonkyeong leaves after only a few minutes in the maximum-security prison, feeling dejected. When she returns home, she’s met by another surprise; her husband has brought his daughter Hayeong to live with them.
Hayeong, whose mother had died recently, was living with her grandparents until a fire broke out in their building in the night, killing the elderly couple. For such a young girl, Hayeong has faced immense loss. Seonkyeong decides to do her best to give the girl a loving home, and prevent any psychological distress. However, Hayeong’s emotions are so unpredictable, and she flies into such fits of rage, that her new step mother begins to wonder if there’s more to the young girl’s loss than they realise. Unable to connect with Hayeong or make a breakthrough with the incarcerated killer, Seonkyeong feels a failure on all fronts, until a sudden revelation places her not only in the know, but in immense danger.
It’s been a long time since I last encountered a book with such tension, that was so immense yet so carefully crafted. After finishing the last page, satisfied and bleary-eyed in the early morning, my mind was still reeling with the story. The Only Child is as excellent as it is unpredictable, making it both exciting and riveting. Mi-Ae Seo has cleverly woven together two stories that, on the surface, share no common thread. As we jump between a fragile child and a hardened killer, Seo emphasizes her skill in documenting human cruelty and the terrible scars they leave. Her characters are unique and incredibly real, emphasizing a sense of realism an eligibility, and leading to immense emotional involvement. Seo’s work has a darkness about it, fueled by the many secrets hidden by the characters, which is richly offset by action and unexpected tenderness. This book is truly a work of art.
The Only Child by Mi-Ae Seo is published by Point Blank, an imprint of Oneworld Publications, and is available in South Africa from Jonathan Ball Publishers.