Excerpt: THE ONLY CHILD by Kayte Nunn (Orion)

NunnK-OnlyChildUKPBToday we have a short excerpt taken from Kayte Nunn‘s latest thriller, The Only Child. Published in paperback today in the UK, here’s the synopsis:

1949 It is the coldest winter Orcades Island has ever known, when a pregnant sixteen-year-old arrives at Fairmile, a home for ‘fallen women’ run by the Catholic Church. She and her baby will disappear before the snow melts.

2013 Frankie Gray has come to the island for the summer, hoping for one last shot at reconnecting with her teenage daughter, Izzy, before starting a job as a deputy sheriff. They are staying with her mother, Diana, at The Fairmile Inn, soon to be a boutique hotel, but when an elderly nun is found dead in suspicious circumstances, and then a tiny skeleton is discovered in the grounds of the house, Frankie is desperate for answers.

Read on from an excerpt taken from the novel’s prologue…


The woman chooses the spot deliberately, set against a wall, where nettles grow waist-high in the warmer months. It’s softer here, mostly sand, and boggy in spring, but even with snow whitening the ground she can slice her shovel into the earth. It is an effort, but she is strong; they all are, for the work in the laundry and outdoors is hard, and muscles emerge ropy and lean after only a few months. Though she wears gloves now, the skin on her palms is callused and speckled with splinters, further proof of her labours. She works by the light of a kerosene lamp, shadows chasing her movements, making her seem larger than life. She pushes the shovel into the frozen ground, all her weight behind it, the scrape muffled by the drifts of snow. There is a grim satisfaction, pride even (though that is a sin), in a job well done, the sides of the hole neat, squared off. It is important that it is deep, though it doesn’t have to be large, for what is to be buried is little bigger than a bag of sugar.

She is doing God’s work, and what greater glory is there than that? Helping these sinful girls, sheltering them, when no one else will. Their families certainly don’t want them, not after what they’ve done, the shame they’ve brought on themselves and their kin. These girls have sinned in the worst possible way; how could there not be a seed of evil in each of them? It is her responsibility, her calling, to rid them of it, just as they are relieved of the results of their sin, their babies given to righteous, Catholic, couples. As she once paid for her sins, so, too, should these girls. Most are young, afraid, full of remorse so great that they cry into their pillows when they think everyone else is asleep. She’s heard them all, felt an answering leap of satisfaction at their distress. Some will come back a second and even a third time, the stain on their souls too deep to be cleansed. These have the mark of the devil himself on them. They are past saving, though she is not supposed to think that. When such evil thoughts arise, she scourges herself in penance. She welcomes the pain, whipping the tender skin of her thighs until she is spent, cleansed, euphoric even. She nudges the package at her feet. This is the spawn of one of the smallest of them all, one whose belly had grown as round as a prize-winning watermelon. The baby had failed to thrive. There wasn’t time for a baptism; nor to register the birth. It is the bitterest winter, the water pipes to the house have frozen, the shoreline is iced over. With Mother Superior in the city, the island cut off by a blizzard, it has fallen to her to take care of things. She prayed to Mary, her knees bruised by the cold chapel floor, until she received an answer. She discards her gloves and retrieves a cigarette case from the pocket of her habit. It rattles as she does so for it contains a silver coin. She’d seen her grandmother do that when laying out the dead. She’d taken the quarter—shiny and new—from the cash box in Mother Superior’s office, reckoning it wouldn’t be missed. She bends, gathering the bundle in her arms in an unwitting parody of a nursing mother, and tucking the case among the folds of linen. She lowers the package to the bottom of the hole, shovels earth over the top until it is level, jumps up and down three times on the spot to flatten it. More snow is coming, and by the time the sun rises, any evidence of her work will be hidden. She pauses, crosses herself briefly, picks up the lantern, gloves forgotten, and hurries back to the house. It is a sorry business.


Kayte Nunn’s The Only Child is out now in paperback in the UK, published by Orion; it is published in North America by Scarlet.

Follow the Author: Website, Goodreads, Instagram, Twitter


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s