I will confess to erroneously setting myself up for some (mild to minimal) disappointment from Jo Nesbø’s new novel. I have been a rabid fan of his Harry Hole series since its initial out-of-sequence publication in the United States, and THE SON is a stand-alone work somewhat outside of the Hole universe. Well, I should have known better. Nesbø doesn’t just exceed the expectations that he always creates with the publication of his books; in the words of the immortal George Clinton, he tears the roof off the sucker. Once you read THE SON, you’ll never get it out of your head.
"THE SON doesn’t just contain elements of such timeless classics as A TALE OF TWO CITIES and LES MISERABLES; it is, dare I say, worthy of standing with those books."
The title character is Sonny Lofthus, who is possessed of a quiet charisma that is immediately evident to almost all he encounters. He is the son of a once highly respected Oslo law enforcement officer who committed suicide on the eve of the revelation of his corruption. The remaining family, consisting of Lofthus and his mother, fell apart, with the mother dying in a haze of alcohol and pills, and Lofthus easing his emotional turmoil with heroin. The focal point of a somewhat unique commerce, Lofthus is in prison after admitting to crimes he has not committed --- a practice he continues, even from his cell --- and, in return, is supplied with a never-ending flow of his drug of choice. He simultaneously functions as a father-confessor of sorts to his fellow inmates, even to the chaplain, who, as the book opens, has multiple problems of his own.
The setup works well for all, particularly an enigmatic, frightening crime lord known as the Twin, who is the stuff of legend. However, it all gets shot to hell when Lofthus learns that his father was murdered. He engineers a daring, almost ingenious escape and begins counting coup on everyone even remotely associated with his father’s death and his imprisonment. This puts him on a collision course with Simon Kefas, a homicide investigator who was partnered with Lofthus’s father and is a tantalizing step or two behind Lofthus as he pursues a bloody and clever vendetta of revenge across the Oslo area.
Kefas is no Jean Valjean, however. A competent and dogged pursuer, he is personally and professionally haunted in a number of ways, which are gradually revealed throughout the course of the book. Kefas pursues Lofthus, but seems as determined to keep Lofthus alive as he is to catch him. When the two finally meet, truths of the past and present are revealed, and a rough justice is ultimately served up, though not without tragic repercussions that resonate long after the final words of the story’s conclusion.
THE SON doesn’t just contain elements of such timeless classics as A TALE OF TWO CITIES and LES MISERABLES; it is, dare I say, worthy of standing with those books. Nesbø has the ability to tell a dark story in a voice that is unflinching yet roughly poetic, resulting in novels that transcend any genre to which one might be inclined to assign them. THE SON stands among his very best works.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on May 16, 2014