The Son by Jo Nesbo

the sonThe sins of the father…

🙂 🙂 🙂

Sonny Lofthus has been in prison for twelve years for crimes he didn’t commit. However he is quite content to be there and even to confess to other crimes, so long as he is paid with a plentiful supply of the heroin to which he is addicted. When Sonny was a boy, he idolised his policeman father Ab, but his life was shattered when Ab committed suicide just as he was about to be revealed as the ‘mole’ who had been giving information to a shady underworld figure known as the Twin. Now Sonny sits in his cell in a drug-induced trance listening to the confessions of his fellow prisoners and dispensing forgiveness. Until one day one of the prisoners confesses that Ab was set up – he never was the mole and the apparent suicide was actually murder. Now Sonny is set on the path for revenge…

This is a standalone from the author who is best known for the much-admired Harry Hole series. Much-admired by other people, that is – personally one Harry Hole book was enough for me. Though if I ever get too happy and feel the need to be made miserable again, I may pick up another one. However, despite hating the character of Harry Hole, I admired Nesbo’s writing enough to see how it would work in a different context.

Let’s get rid of the negatives first. The premise of the book is ridiculous. The character of Sonny is…ridiculous! This is a man who has been addicted to heroin for at least twelve years, but then goes cold turkey and turns into some kind of superman, who can break out of impregnable prisons, tackle gangs of baddies, evade the forces of law and order and persuade a perfectly respectable woman to give up everything she has for sudden love of him. And the book is chock full of pseudo-religious symbolism as if suggesting that in some way Sonny’s revenge is divinely inspired; or worse, that he in some way represents goodness or holiness. Yes, Nesbo is deliberately playing with ideas of morality and when revenge may be justified, but with such a lack of subtlety it’s almost awe-inspiring. I think the heights were reached for me when we were introduced to the character named Pontius – or perhaps it was when The Son’s head began to develop a strange halo-like glow. (Oh, how I wish I was joking!)

Jo Nesbo
Jo Nesbo

Unusually, the positives are equally strong. Apart from the unbelievable Son and the pantomime villain Twin, the rest of the characterisation is very good. Simon Kefas was a friend of Sonny’s father and is now the police officer tasked with catching Sonny. However his sympathy for Sonny and loyalty to his father’s memory complicate matters for him, as does his urgent need to find enough money to fund an eye operation for his young wife who is going blind. Simon’s partner is an ambitious young woman who is determined not to be tainted by any of the corruption she sees going on around her. And even Sonny’s love interest is well drawn and believable once the reader has accepted the unlikelihood of the love-affair. The plotting is strong and well-paced although the violence is far more graphic than it needs to be, or indeed than sits well with Nesbo’s attempt to blur the morality line. The writing flows well and the translation by Charlotte Barslund is excellent.

So all-in-all, if you can overlook the significant credibility weaknesses and the violence, this is a reasonably entertaining noirish thriller. Not nearly as thought-provoking or meaningful as I think it would like to be, but quite entertaining nonetheless.

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Random House Vintage.

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41 thoughts on “The Son by Jo Nesbo

  1. FictionFan – I really do appreciate, as ever, your candor and thoughtfulness about this one. I’m not surprised that you found the writing style flowed well; that’s what I’ve found too, although I’ve not read this one. I have a lot of trouble with such credibility chasms though, and to be frank, I’m forgiving enough to overlook them even for quality writing style and some solid characters. I think this will go in the ‘don’t think so, but maybe sometime…’ pile.

    • Thanks, Margot! 🙂 Yes, it’s a pity – I do think Nesbo is a very talented writer, but I just don’t seem to get along with his heroes. The whole idea in this one of introducing a quasi-religious theme – serial-killer as Saviour – destroyed any chance that the book could be taken seriously, by me at least.

  2. Stellar review! *laughing* “Though if I ever get too happy and feel the need to be made miserable again, I may pick up another one.” –Best line ever!

    It is a pity you couldn’t rip it all the way, though. And he seems like a genuinely interesting chap. I’d be quite intrigued to know how he got out of jail…

    • *laughing* A stellar!! I knew you’d enjoy this one though. Thank you – I’m fond of that line myself… *smiles smugly*

      The odd thing is I think the Professor might well enjoy this book considerably more than I did. Lots of action and over-the-top kinda heroic stuff…

        • Well, you did like it the last time I used it too… *chuckles self-deprecatingly* (I’ve become used to being in a liquid state now)

          Since I wasn’t too keen on the book, I’d let you flick past the lovey-dovey stuff if you’d prefer… aren’t I kind?

  3. Any author who comes up with the character name “Harry Hole” and keeps it beyond the first draft should be strung from the yard arm. That said, this other doesn’t sound promising. Yet another “PASS.” Yes! Dodged another bullet.

    • Haha, I know – but maybe it’s not as silly sounding in Norwegian! For once I’m not sorry to hear you pass – this one is unlikely to make the shortlist for this year’s awards… 😉

  4. Thanks for a great review – you have saved me from wasting several valuable hours that I require for other purposes. I’m impressed that you managed to finish a Harry Hole. I failed twice, and decided not to make a third attempt.

    • Ah, so I’m not alone! I just found him the most depressing of all the depressing mavericks – the straw that broke this camel’s back. This book is far less depressing, but still not one I’d wholeheartedly recommend.

  5. I gave up on the one Harry Hole that I tried so nothing will tempt me back to this author. I loved your review (as always) though, particularly the ‘if I ever get too happy and feel the need to be made miserable again, I may pick up another one’ line. Thanks for making me smile again 🙂

    • Ah, I thought I was almost the only one who didn’t take to Harry Hole – I stuck it out to the end but was left wondering why I’d bothered. This one was less depressing though. Haha – thanks! I rather liked that line myself (she said modestly)! 😉

  6. A halo glow -really, that’s a worry. Actually what is worrying is that he is rewriting Macbeth. I thought he was a good choice as he has a sense of the dramatic, but maybe not. oh doth worries me.

    • The whole thing was a bit worrying – or would have been if it hadn’t made me laugh a bit! But there’s lots of positives about it too, and loads of people love his books. I think I’m just out of sync with the way crime is heading…

  7. Yes, that was a great line – although I have to admit I do have a fondness for Harry Hole. But then perhaps I like that Norwegian melancholy or depression (Karin Fossum has it too in spades). I’ve read 3-4 of them, and, although I wouldn’t necessarily want to read them all in order, I did like what I read. I thought his standalone ‘Headhunters’ was quite different, quite zippy, and with a Patricia Highsmith feel to it.

    • Haha! Thanks! Hmm…if I ever feel strong enough I might give Headhunters a try then. I do admire his writing and the way he paces his stories – I just don’t get on with his lead characters. Oddly, the serial-killing, heroin-addicted, Uzi-wielding Sonny is slightly less dysfunctional and more fun than Harry though… 😉

    • It’s certainly not one I’d be trying to force people to read – though zillions of people think it’s great. I don’t think I’m in tune with the male Nordic writers for some reason.

  8. Great review! I haven’t read a Nesbo yet – they sound a little bleak for me – but I’ve been tempted. This one sounds like an anti-heroine PSA. You know, quit heroin, get super powers!

  9. I tried one Harry Hole novel and got precisely nowhere with it, so have given Nesbo a miss since then. Coincidentally I was reading a piece this morning where the writer was suggesting that our love for Scandinavian crime was beginning to wane and as I thought about it I realised that this was true at least as far as I’m concerned. I wonder if others feel the same.

    • It’s been interesting how many people have commented that they didn’t enjoy Harry Hole. Sometimes the buzz can give a very misleading picture that an author is more widely popular than seems to be the case, at least in this instance. I can’t say I’ve taken to the Scandi male writers at all – even the couple like Arne Dahl and Jussi Adler-Olsen that I enjoyed the first one I read, I tired of very rapidly. There’s only so much gore, misery and toilet humour this reader can take! The women have appealed to me more on the whole, and I might stick with a couple of them for a while longer.

      What worries me is that so many of our own authors seem to be copying the Scandis – the huge rise in graphic and gratuitous violence and sleaze is putting me off crime altogether.

  10. I think I liked this book a lot better than you did. I agree the story was a little unbelievable in places. Can a heroin addict like Sonny ditch that habit by pure will power alone? That’s dangerous, I think.

    However, once I turned a blind eye to that, I found I loved the book – probably because of Simon Kefas who is incredibly well written, I thought.

    • Yes, I thought the characterisation was really strong except for Sonny, but he was just so ridiculous I couldn’t take it seriously – and all the pseudo-religious stuff made me laugh too, I’m afraid. Not really the desired response to a thriller… 😉

      But in general I’ve found I really don’t much enjoy the male Nordic writers – I think I’m just not on their wavelength. I enjoy some of the feamle Scandi authors though.

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