The Son, or Sonny – jailhouse confessor with a blissful Buddha smile, long matted hair, scabs and needle marks on his arms and bare feet, said to have killed two people while a teenager, and now being tutored by the prison chaplain to confess to the murder of a woman in the short time he went missing while on a day out from prison.
Sonny is not the usual crime fiction hero. He is the latest construct of that fertile and fevered imagination that is Jo Nesbo. Son of Harry Hole? Maybe. Certainly, the son of a police officer. One who exceeds Harry’s capacity for self-destruction by committing suicide while suspected of corruption.
But did Sonny commit the two murders which sent him to prison? Was his father corrupt, and did he commit suicide? A conversation with a fellow inmate who is about to be released turns Sonny’s world upside, prompts him to kick the heroin habit, and carry out an audacious escape from prison. The prison chaplain is also found dead, again raising questions about suicide or homicide. Another case for Simon Kefas, another copper in the Harry Hole mould who is not averse to questioning the wisdom of his superiors when they press him to write off the death as suicide. Simon is also an old friend of Sonny’s father, and familiar with the stories about his links with the Oslo criminal underworld in the shape of the Twin, an odious behemoth who controls the city’s drug and sex trafficking empire.
Sonny’s efforts to right the wrongs done to himself and his father create a body count which add to Simon’s caseload and also lead him back to the death of Sonny’s father, and his own history as an inveterate gambler who has turned his life round out of love for his wife. Their life together his now blighted as her sight deteriorates and only an expensive operation can prevent blindness. Without the money to pay for the operation Simon is left to consider offering his services to the Twin and his criminal underworld.
That’s as far as I can go before taster becomes spoiler. However, I unreservedly recommend The Son. The film rights have already been sold to Warner Brothers and, with some of the careful nurturing which Hollywood occasionally gives a promising text, the film could well provide much excitement in cinemas or sitting rooms.
Not that that is the judgment I had expected when first confronted with The Son. One offs can often be disappointing, written to meet the needs of the author rather than readers, or created solely with a film in mind. I have to say I still see’s Headhunters in that vein. For all, its kindly asides about my beloved QPR, it failed the credibility test when the hero narrowly avoids a truly shitty end with help of a toilet roll tube.
Compared to that earlier offering, The Son works on nearly every count. The symmetrical endeavours of Sonny and Simon allow the story to develop at exactly the right pace, drip-feeding the reader with enough information to let the excitement build, but still reserving some surprises for the final pages. And there’s the love interest which Jo presents without too much sugar, in a manner which sustains the plot. Sadly, there’s no guarantee Hollywood will handle it that way. But I live in hope.