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THE SON
by Jo Nesb° and Charlotte Barslund, trans.
Knopf, May 2014
402 pages
$25.95
ISBN: 0385351372


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

In this standalone, Jo Neb° departs from the extravagant violence of the later Harry Hole episodes while continuing his crafting of elaborate wheels-within-wheels plots that involve criminal enterprises that reach into the highest ranks of the police.

In this story, the son of the title refers to Sonny Lofthus, a young heroin addict who routinely takes responsibility for other people's crimes in exchange for drugs. In his blissful passivity, he has become a confessor for fellow inmates . If you think he sounds like a Christ figure, taking on others' sins and absolving them, you would be right. But once he learns from a penitent that his father's disgrace and suicide was staged, that he had been an honest cop who'd been set up by an informant, Sonny becomes positively Old Testament. Vengeance will be his. He engineers a fiendishly clever escape, kicks his habit (or at least beats it into temporary submission) and goes after the people who destroyed his father's life ľ and his own.

Yet even as he takes revenge, he retains much of his Christ-like simplicity and goodness, reentering an unfamiliar world like a modern-day Norwegian Prince Myshkin, an innocent who knows nothing of cell phones or the Internet or how to act around attractive women. He's strangely sweet and possessed of a strong moral compass that includes killing lots of people to avenge his father.

He is being pursued by Simon Kefas, a maverick cop whose brilliance is complicated by a gambling habit that derailed his career. Like Sonny, he wants to set the record straight, because Sonny's father was his best friend. But the work will be complicated by the fact that the nasty spider who sits in the center of a sticky web of crime, a legendary figure called The Twin, has connections woven through the prison system and the police. Who can you trust?

As always with Nesb°, the plot is deviously convoluted and the workings of escapades worked out like fine-tuned machinery. The main characters are full of charm and faults, driven and smart, but tempted by their addictions. The police force is riddled with corruption and crime is highly organized. There are times when the characters wax philosophical and ponder the nature of free will and hard choices between action scenes. It's entertaining and, as always, full of twists, with a bit more of a morality play included than usual.

What it doesn't have is any sense that what's happening in the story owes any resemblance to reality. Nesb°'s books, which once were fresh and startling, offering a good bit of thought-provoking fun, have become a little too burdened with special effects. He owes more to Hollywood than to Maj Sj÷wall and Per Wahl÷÷, the grandparents of contemporary Scandinavian crime fiction and the social critique it is known for. Nesb° doesn't hold up a mirror to society or probe what ails it. It's pure entertainment all the way down.

ž Barbara Fister is an academic librarian, columnist, and author of the Anni Koskinen mystery series.

Reviewed by Barbara Fister, June 2014

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)


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