The Son by Jo Nesbø is about fathers and sons, revenge, justice, and redemption. The son of the title is Sonny Lofthus, son of Ab Lofthus, a disgraced police officer who committed suicide after admitting to being a mole in the police department for organized crime. Sonny's life fell apart after the father he idolized killed himself. His depressed mother started self-medicating, first with prescription drugs, then will illegal drugs and alcohol. Sonny tried to take care of her but soon he was self-medicating too.
Young and poor with no money to feed his habit, Sonny turned to crime. When he ran out of things to sell or steal, he accepted a proposition that promised him a steady stream of heroin. In exchange for confessing to murders he did not commit he would get all the heroin he wanted in prison. Twelve years pass. Now thirty Sonny is still in prison and has even confessed to a few more murders, anything to keep the heroin flowing and his pain and sorrow at bay.
One might wonder how such a scheme could possibly work so well for so long. It was an elaborate, yet simple scheme involving gangsters, prison officials, other prisoners, and the prison chaplain. A hit would be ordered on a person. The hit would be carried out. The chaplain would feed Sonny the details of the crime so when the police and the prosecutor questioned him Sonny would know what to say. Evidence would be planted at the crime scene if need be. Sonny would confess and the heroin kept flowing.
Brief Sidebar: One of reasons I like to read books by non-American authors set in countries other than the United States is in order to find out how things work in other parts of the world. At the time that some of the crimes occurred Sonny was already in prison. In order to make it plausible and possible that Sonny could have committed the murders he confesses to, the gangsters and prison guards arrange for the crimes to take place on the same day and time that Sonny is outside the prison because apparently in Norway convicted murderers get to take field trips outside the prison every once in awhile. Not for a work furlough or a court date, but just to walk around, see the sea, and get some fresh air. And they are not handcuffed or otherwise confined on these field trips. On one such field trip, Sonny meets a stranger at a park and tells him he should go see a doctor soon because Sonny can tell, maybe by the way man walks, that something is wrong with his heart.
Everything changes for Sonny when another prisoner who is dying of cancer decides he needs to get something off his chest before he meets his maker. The cancer patient tells Sonny that his father Ab wasn't the mole. He was trying to uncover who the mole was and was murdered to stop him from doing so. With unheard of amounts of willpower, or maybe it's just adrenaline and anger, Sonny gets clean and escapes prison, all in a matter of days. Once on the outside he sets about finishing what his father started, exacting revenge and distributing justice as he deems fit. Sonny has to dodge both the police, including his father's former partner Simon, and the leaders of the criminal world. Everything gets very bloody pretty quickly.
Sonny is not a completely believable character. He kicks heroin a little too easily (a steady user for more than a decade, he's as good as new after a few days going cold turkey) and adjusts to life outside of prison pretty quickly for someone who has been behind bars for twelve years. But whatever flaws there are in Sonny's evolution from drugged out prison inmate to revenge mastermind are compensated by his very believable thirst for revenge and for answers.
I cannot adequately explain why I liked this, other than to say it was hard to put down. Sonny does bad things for understandable, I can't quite bring myself to write "good", reasons. He thinks he owes it to his father to punish the people that ruined their lives. A couple people question that and Sonny doesn't have a much of a response to their doubts about why he's doing what he's doing. Still even though I knew Sonny wasn't exactly a hero I was compelled to follow him on his journey.
The weakest part of this story for me was the love story. It was unnecessary and not at all believable. Sonny falls in love with the woman who runs the shelter where he goes after escaping from prison. The woman appears to be relatively intelligent and stable. Sure she has an annoying boyfriend but are we really supposed to believe that Sonny, a man she soon learns is suspected of several murders, is the better choice? Why not dump the boyfriend and stay away from Sonny? (Another sidebar: The shelter is for active drug addicts, meaning if you stop using drugs you get kicked out. Seriously, who came up with such a policy?) I get why Sonny might fall in love with her, after all, as he points out, she is the first woman he's seen let alone touched in twelve years and she is kind to him. I don't get at all why she falls in love with him, even if he really does have nice eyes.
This review is turning out to be longer that planned. I'll end by saying read this if you're interested in dark mystery-thrillers. This is the second book by Jo Nesbø that I've read, the first being Headhunters. I want to try his Harry Hole series, even more after reading The Son.