The Son by Jo Nesbø
There are times when it’s right to begin a review with a headline that will signal whether people want to take the time to read the rest. This is such a time. Making no apologies for the alliteration, The Son by Jo Nesbø (Alfred Knopf, 2014) is magnificently malevolent. From this you will understand that there’s a significant amount of violence, mayhem, and not a little murder delivered with considerable flair and in often quite stunning detail. So if you’re of a nervous disposition and easily shocked, this is not a book you should pick up.
Continuing now with those of you who enjoy a book which explores the darker side of human nature with unbridled enthusiasm, this is a story of revenge and, despite the level of criminality and corruption that’s revealed as the plot unwinds, it speculates on whether taking revenge in cold blood can ever be redemptive. In this, you should understand, there’s a considerable lack of plausibility. But if the plot is going to get everyone relevant to the right places at the right time as the end approaches, physical and emotional laws need to be flexible. Escapes must be possible, bullets will miss their targets, and human hearts prove weak and strong as the situation dictates. In spirit, this reminded me of Headhunters which is the other non-Harry Hole novel and which became a wonderful film. Such a resonance has also occurred in the boardrooms of Hollywood because Warner Bros bought this book in 2012 and is developing it for a big screen debut sometime in the future.
So what’s it about? We begin by examining the existence of one Sonny Lofthus who’s one of these remarkably laid-back prisoners in what’s supposed to be one of Scandinavia’s superprisons. Somehow he’s managing to score a continuous amount of almost pure heroin which keeps him docile and tractable over the twelve years of his imprisonment. He surfaces just enough to have become a father confessor figure to all the other prisoners and to admit to murders when it’s convenient to those that control him. At this point in his career, he was allowed out on a day visit and, as if by magic, a woman was murdered. Despite there being another more credible suspect, Sonny is soon admitting to the killing. Except, during one of his informal confession sessions, one of the other inmates tells him a story about the circumstances in which his father died. This inspires him to go cold turkey and, in due course, to escape from this magic prison. This sends him on a rampage of revenge. He’s been a listening ear to so many stories told over the years and, of course, he had to learn all the details of the murders he was to admit. This means he knows exactly who’s guilty and should be punished for their sins.
This leads us to Chief Inspector Simon Kefas, an older but very experienced detective now working homicide. When he was younger, he was one of three cadets entering the force. One has now achieved high rank as the police commissioner. The other was Sonny’s father. Now he’s caught up in investigating the emerging series of homicides as Sonny works up to full rampage mode. In the midst of all this, there’s time for some sentimentality and various interacting themes of love. It all works up to a superior climax in which the “heroes” prevail and, albeit in slightly bloodthirsty terms, justice prevails. There’s terrific narrative drive as we turn the pages to find the next major incident. This is not a book you read for realism but, in its own kind of way, it rises above the corruption and general nastiness of human nature and ends on a positive note as peace and calm once again descends on Norway. The Son is recommended as police procedural meets violent crime with a little horror thrown in to spice up the plot.
A copy of this book was sent to me for review.