A dozen years ago The Son found his father slumped over his desk in the family home, his head surrounded by a pool of drying blood, a pistol beside his head. The note he'd left said that he could no longer live with himself: he, Ab Loftus, was the infamous mole within the police department of Oslo; a paid spy for highly-placed criminal agents in the Norwegian capital.
The death puts Sonny Loftus on the wrong track: by eighteen, he's addicted to heroin and incarcerated in Norway's most high-security prison, convicted of crimes up to and including murder. Even while in prison Sonny manages, with the aid of corrupt officials, to continue a "crime spree" that is in reality a sham. At the same time, the young man has become a healer and confessor to the other inmates. It is in this role that he learns the truth: his father had been the mole, instead he was forced to kill himself to protect the wife and son he loved above all else. The knowledge gived Sonny purpose; within a few weeks he has kicked his heroin habit cold turkey and arranged a daring escape.
Once free, Sonny devotes himself to getting even with the people who had used him, the criminals who had ruined his life, and ultimately the crime boss who had ordered his father's death. As he plows a bloody path through the underbelly of Oslo, he draws not only the attention of the corrupt but of the police as well; especially the grizzled veteran cop Simon Kefas. Kefas is more than just a wise old homicide cop; he was also a partner and friend to Sonny's father. Kefas is certain that Sonny's days are numbered; the only question is whether the police will find him before the underlings of The Twin. Kefas feels a duty to get there first.
Norwegian novelist Jo Nesbø is probably best-known for a series of police procedural mysteries featuring Oslo detective Harry Hole, although The Son is a standalone novel that shares only its setting and its tone with that series. Like Hole, Simon Kefas walks the streets of a gritty version of Oslo that never makes it to the travel brochures, a version populated by addicts and criminals. Nevertheless, Nesbø's tone and delivery somehow feel different from your typical American crime fiction; perhaps because his hero isn't defined by an ability to shoot faster and punch harder than the bad guys, or to bed beautiful women hours after being introduced. As is common in European murder mysteries, Simon Kefas uses his brains instead of his brawn to solve his cases. Then again, Kefas is only a few months from retirement, and probably shouldn't involve himself in bloody shootouts and mixed martial arts bouts.
Nesbø alternates scenes between Sonny and Simon, weaving the tales of hunted and hunter into a single narrative. He skillfullly fleshes out his characters; giving Sonny a Buddha-like calm and an implacable purpose while Simon must also play the roles of terrified husband and mentor. Sonny's singleminded pursuit of the corruption that ruined him and his father is punctuated by his kindness and the loyalty he inspires in complete strangers. Simon is supposed to train a new recruit, Kari Adel, while desperately trying to find the money for an operation that could save the sight of his beloved wife. The two are a a study in contrasts: the cop a man of honor who's in fact deeply flawed, The Son a stone killer with a heart that somehow manages to inspire good.
Nesbø skillfully tracks Sonny through Oslo's gritty underbelly, from a no-tell motel at the city's center to the crime boss's ostentatious mansion just kilometers away but in a different world. He stops in a homeless encampment under a bridge, and at a shelter for the citys addicts. Love and pathos are woven through the narrative in equal portions. Ultimately, Nesbø manages to turn his dark tale of revenge and retribution into something that is even uplifting. It's no wonder this writer has become a favorite world-wide, even for American readers who might normally quail at the sight of place names like Âmodt Bro (one wonders what Norwegian readers might think of some of the street names in my neighborhood, names like “Rowlock Vine” and "Loch Bruceray").
In the end, The Son marks another solid effort from Nesbø, a novel serious crime fiction fans shouldn't miss.