Despite his superficial resemblance to Harry Hole, the policeman who chases criminals and his personal demons in many of Jo Nesbo’s earlier novels, Chief Inspector Simon Kefas is definitely his own man. The Oslo police department, though just as corrupt as it is in the Harry Hole books, also labors under its own distinctive flaws. Jo Nesbo’s The Son stands on its own as a top-flight detective novel and a thriller.

There’s no mistaking The Son for a book that anyone else could have written. Nesbo characteristically paints a grim picture of life and crime in Norway. “What we humans think we know,” he writes, “is nothing compared to what we need to believe to numb the fear and pain.” And there’s a great deal of both in this deftly written tale. As always, Nesbo creates characters just this side of unbelievable and pushes them to their emotional limits. It’s an impressive display of the writer’s craft.

The Son by Jo Nesbo @@@@ (4 out of 5)

The book opens in a prison cell in Oslo, where Sonny Lofthus (“the Son”) has served a sentence for murder since his eighteenth year. Sonny never committed either that murder or an even more gruesome one for which he is being framed. He accedes to the arrangement because the deputy warden of the jail secures a steady supply of heroin for him. Then, unaccountably to outsiders, Sonny engineers his escape from prison, and the action unfolds, inveigling Chief Inspector Kefas, the deputy warden, the city’s principal heroin trafficker, and numerous other characters, in a complex story of crime, guilt, and redemption.

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