The Sonby Jo Nesbo
The author of the best-selling Harry Hole series now gives us an electrifying stand-alone novel set inside Oslo’s maze of especially venal, high-level corruption.
Sonny Lofthus is a strangely charismatic and complacent young man. Sonny’s been in prison for a dozen years, nearly half his life. The inmates who seek out his uncanny abilities
The author of the best-selling Harry Hole series now gives us an electrifying stand-alone novel set inside Oslo’s maze of especially venal, high-level corruption.
Sonny Lofthus is a strangely charismatic and complacent young man. Sonny’s been in prison for a dozen years, nearly half his life. The inmates who seek out his uncanny abilities to soothe leave his cell feeling absolved. They don’t know or care that Sonny has a serious heroin habit—or where or how he gets his uninterrupted supply of the drug. Or that he’s serving time for other peoples’ crimes.
Sonny took the first steps toward addiction when his father took his own life rather than face exposure as a corrupt cop. Now Sonny is the seemingly malleable center of a whole infrastructure of corruption: prison staff, police, lawyers, a desperate priest—all of them focused on keeping him high and in jail. And all of them under the thumb of the Twin, Oslo’s crime overlord. As long as Sonny gets his dope, he’s happy to play the criminal and the prison’s in-house savior.
But when he learns a stunning, long-hidden secret concerning his father, he makes a brilliantly executed escape from prison—and from the person he’d let himself become—and begins hunting down those responsible for the crimes against him . . . The darkly looming question is: Who will get to him first—the criminals or the cops?
This excellent standalone from Nesbø, best known for his Harry Hole series (Police, etc.), centers on Sonny Lofthus (aka the Son), who’s serving a sentence at Oslo’s Staten Maximum Security Prison for two murders to which he confessed but which he did not commit. Sonny began using drugs before his incarceration, after his police officer father, Ab, hanged himself, leaving a note in which Ab confessed to having been a dirty cop. To manipulate Sonny, prison officials, lawyers, and police enable Sonny’s habit. When another inmate, Johannes Halden, who’s dying of cancer, begs for Sonny’s forgiveness after admitting a role in framing Ab and making his murder look like suicide, Sonny stops taking drugs and later escapes from prison with Johannes’s help. He launches a killing spree targeting those he suspects of having destroyed his father—in particular, a gangster known as the Twin, who controls a criminal enterprise encompassing human trafficking, drugs, and money laundering. A love affair between Sonny and Martha Lian, director of a center for drug addicts where Sonny stays, adds another exciting dynamic. Nesbø takes the reader on a chilling ride with many unexpected twists. 150,000-copy announced first printing. Author tour. Agent: Niclas Salomonsson, Salomonsson Agency (Sweden). (May)
—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Excellent . . . Nesbø takes the reader on a chilling ride with many unexpected twists.”
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“The standard bearer for the phenomenon that is Scandinavian crime fiction. . . . Fast-paced and imaginatively violent, this latest example of Nesbo’s Nordic noir hurtles like an express train towards a last act of almost operatic extravagance that leaves dead bodies and carefully nurtured reputations littering the stage. Great stuff altogether.”
“[Nesbø is] one of the current leading lights in Scandinavian crime fiction . . . Ridiculously talented . . . with his clear gift for hairpin twists and turns. . . . The thriller is so tightly plotted that it will keep readers steadfastly glued to their seat. . . . What Nesbø has crafted is not a whodunit in the traditional sense, as the writer is interested in the far more fascinating question of what can drive a person to evil?”
—Daily Style (Australia)
“Nesbø’s new book makes all the hype before publication seem like false modesty, and is quite simply a fantastic piece of crime literature. . . . First and foremost, this is a clever, enthralling and driven story that is impossible to put down.”
—Dagens Næringsliv (Norway)
“Yet another powerful demonstration of Nesbø’s talent for creating a story that plays on all nerve strands and with so much intensity that it embodies both the Bible and Batman at once. It is really well done. It is still early in the year, but I wouldn't be surprised if someone should dub The Son as the crime novel of the year.”
—Ekstra Bladet (Denmark)
“The pace proves to be on top in the new book, in a positive sense. This remains Norwegian crime literature in a class by itself. A plot that stretches and spreads out like great mathematical formulas, with many unfamiliar characters in the equation, but without being arcane or excessive in his fantastic interpretations. . . . Jo Nesbø prevails once again.”
“The Son is a modern take on the story about Christ, that tackles the corruption in Oslo. . . . Jo Nesbø’s writing is incredible as usual.”
“Tremendously well written by Nesbø. . . . There is something unstoppably vital about Jo Nesbø as a designer of crime stories in the baroque style. His pen is on fire and although it may be noted that it goes too fast sometimes linguistically, the stories he creates has so many staggering twists and turns that it is almost physically impossible not to get hooked.”
“Crime novels are rarely so skillfully told and at the same time so much more than pure entertainment. But Nesbø is a master.”
“No Norwegian crime writer can create such complex crime plots without losing in detail like Nesbø can. You might say that Nesbø is both high and low in his texts, and that is one of the main reasons why his novels rise above most others in this genre.”
“It is a formidable, diabolically clever and devilishly good book that is well put together, down to the smallest detail.”
—Nordjyske Stiftstidene (Denmark)
“The story . . . is propelled with great force and an unerring sense of detail. . . . It is simply thrilling to read.”
“Fast-paced and rip-roaring suspenseful.”
“No one at our latitudes knows the game like Nesbø does. No one is even close to his craftsmanship in writing crime novels that hold such international standard.”
“A high level of suspense all the way and limitless brutality. The bad guys get what they deserves and Nesbø’s writing is almost more cynical and concrete than usual. There are also a few love stories along the way, that—almost—end happily.”
—Lolland-Falsters Folketidende (Denmark)
As a teenager, Sonny Lofthus learns of his father's death—the circumstances of which disgrace his family and catapult Sonny into despair. To cope with his loss, Sonny seeks escape through heroin and at age 18 admits to crimes he did not commit. As payment for his confession, corrupt Oslo prison staff, lawyers, and a priest supply Sonny with a steady stream of heroin. Then, 12 years later, the same faction threatens to cut off Sonny's heroin supply unless he confesses to a murder. At the same time, a fellow inmate provides Sonny with new information about his father's death. Sonny breaks out of prison to make the people responsible pay for their treachery. While Oslo police search for Sonny, he untangles a web of corruption throughout the city. VERDICT The best-selling author of the Harry Hole series (Redeemer; Nemesis) delivers an exceptional, gritty, fast-paced stand-alone thriller; the smooth transitions among each character's perspectives lure readers in, and Barslund's translation is accessible to American readers. Fans of the most recent Hole novels as well as of Stieg Larsson's "Millennium" trilogy will enjoy Nesbø's tightly knit plot.—Russell Michalak, Goldey-Beacom Coll. Lib., Wilmington, DE
A deftly plotted novel that probes the deepest mysteries: sin, redemption, love, evil, the human condition. After he seemingly brought Harry Hole back from the dead in his last novel (Police, 2013), Norway's Nesbø gives his popular protagonist a breather, shelving the detective in favor of a stand-alone novel that plunges deeply into the religious allegory that has frequently framed his work (The Redeemer, 2013). In fact, the symbolism might initially seem laid on pretty thick for readers looking to solve a satisfying whodunit. Sonny Lofthus, the son of the title, is introduced as a prisoner with "healing hands," one who was "prepared to take your sins upon himself and didn't want anything in return." Like Christ, he suffers for the sins of others and offers redemption. He is also a hopeless junkie. His back story suggests that Sonny was a boy of considerable promise, a champion wrestler and model student, proud son of a police officer. Then, when he was 18, he was devastated by the suicide of his father, who left a note confessing his corruption as the mole within the department, and the subsequent death of his heartbroken mother. After Sonny turned to drugs, he found himself in a web of evil; if he would confess to murders he hadn't committed, the corrupt prison system would keep him supplied with heroin. Then a fellow prisoner comes to him for confession and reveals a secret that turns Sonny's world upside down, inspiring him to kick his habit, plot an ingenious escape and turn himself into an "avenging angel," delivering lethal retribution. The inspector obsessed with the case had a complicated relationship with Sonny's father, and it remains uncertain until the climax (in a church, naturally) whether he wants to be Sonny's captor or his collaborator. It's a novel in which one character muses on "how innocence walks hand-in-hand with ignorance. How insight never clarifies, only complicates." One of Nesbø's best, deepest and richest novels, even without Harry Hole.
Read an Excerpt
Rover kept his eyes on the white-painted concrete floor in the eleven-square-metre prison cell. He bit down on the slightly too long gold front tooth in his lower jaw. He had reached the hardest part of his confession. The only sound in the cell was his nails scratching the madonna tattoo on his forearm. The boy sitting cross-legged on the bed opposite him had remained silent ever since Rover had entered. He had merely nodded and smiled his blissful Buddha smile, his gaze fixed at a point on Rover’s forehead. People called the boy Sonny and said that he had killed two people as a teenager, that his father had been a corrupt police officer and that Sonny had healing hands. It was hard to see if the boy was listening—his green eyes and most of his face were hidden behind his long, matted hair—but that didn’t matter. Rover just wanted his sins forgiven and to receive Sonny’s distinctive blessing so that tomorrow he could walk out of Staten Maximum Security Prison with the feeling of being a truly cleansed man. Not that Rover was religious, but it could do no harm when he intended to change, to give going straight a real try. Rover took a deep breath.
“I think she was from Belarus. Minsk is in Belarus, isn’t it?” Rover looked up quickly, but the boy made no reply. “Nestor had nicknamed her Minsk,” Rover said. “He told me to shoot her.”
The obvious advantage of confessing to someone whose brain was fried was that no name and incident would stick; it was like talking to yourself. This might explain why inmates at Staten preferred this guy to the chaplain or the psychologist.
“Nestor kept her and eight other girls in a cage down in Enerhaugen. East Europeans and Asians. Young. Teenagers. At least I hope they were as old as that. But Minsk was older. Stronger. She escaped. Got as far as Tøyen Park before Nestor’s dog caught her. One of those Argentine mastiffs—know what I’m talking about?”
The boy’s eyes never moved, but he raised his hand. Found his beard. He started to comb it slowly with his fingers. The sleeve of his filthy, oversized shirt slipped down and revealed scabs and needle marks. Rover went on.
“Bloody big albino dogs. Kills anything its owner points at. And quite a lot he doesn’t. Banned in Norway, ’course. A guy out in Rælengen got some from the Czech Republic, breeds them and registers them as white boxers. Me and Nestor went there to buy one when it was a pup. It cost more than fifty grand in cash. The puppy was so cute you wouldn’t ever think it . . .” Rover stopped. He knew he was only talking about the dog to put off the inevitable. “Anyway . . .”
Anyway. Rover looked at the tattoo on his other forearm. A cathedral with two spires. One for each sentence he had served, neither of which had anything to do with today’s confession. He used to supply guns to a biker gang and modify some of them in his workshop. He was good at it. Too good. So good that he couldn’t remain below the radar forever and he was caught. And so good that, while serving his first sentence, Nestor had taken him under his wing. Nestor had made sure he owned him so that from then on only Nestor would get his hands on the best guns, rather than the biker gang or any other rivals. He had paid him more for a few months’ work than Rover could ever hope to earn in a lifetime in his workshop fixing motorbikes. But Nestor had demanded a lot in return. Too much.
“She was lying in the bushes, blood everywhere. She just lay there, dead still, staring up at us. The dog had taken a chunk out of her face—you could see straight to the teeth.” Rover grimaced. Get to the point. “Nestor said it was time to teach them a lesson, show the other girls what would happen to them. And that Minsk was worthless to him now anyway, given the state of her face . . .” Rover swallowed. “So he told me to do it. Finish her off. That’s how I’d prove my loyalty, you see. I had an old Ruger MK II pistol that I’d done some work on. And I was going to do it. I really was. That wasn’t the problem . . .”
Rover felt his throat tighten. He had thought about it so often, gone over those seconds during that night in Tøyen Park, seeing the girl over and over again. Nestor and himself taking the leading roles with the others as silent witnesses. Even the dog had been silent. He had thought about it perhaps a hundred times. A thousand? And yet it wasn’t until now, when he said the words out loud for the first time, that he realised that it hadn’t been a dream, that it really had happened. Or rather it was as if his body hadn’t accepted it until now. That was why his stomach was churning. Rover breathed deeply through his nose to quell the nausea.
“But I couldn’t do it. Even though I knew she was gonna die. They had the dog at the ready and I was thinking that me, I’d have preferred a bullet. But it was as if the trigger was locked in position. I just couldn’t pull it.”
The young man seemed to be nodding faintly. Either in response to what Rover was telling him or to music only he could hear.
“Nestor said we didn’t have all day, we were in a public park after all. So he took out a small, curved knife from a leg holster, stepped forward, grabbed her by the hair, pulled her up and just seemed to swing the knife in front of her throat. As if gutting a fish. Blood spurted out three, four times, then she was empty. But d’you know what I remember most of all? The dog. How it started howling at the sight of all that blood.”
Rover leaned forward in the chair with his elbows on his knees. He covered his ears with his hands and rocked back and forth.
“And I did nothing. I just stood there, looking on. I did fuck all. While they wrapped her in a blanket and carried her to the car, I just watched. We drove her to the woods, to Østmarksetra. Lifted her out and rolled her down the slope towards Ulsrudsvannet. Lots of people take their dogs for walks there so she was found the next day. The point was, Nestor wanted her to be found, d’you get me? He wanted pictures in the papers of what had happened to her. So he could show them to the other girls.”
Rover removed his hands from his ears.
“I stopped sleeping; every time I closed my eyes I had nightmares. The girl with the missing cheek smiled at me and bared all her teeth. So I went to see Nestor and told him I wanted out. Said I’d had enough of filing down Uzis and Glocks, that I wanted to go back to fixing motorbikes. Live a quiet life, not worry about the cops the whole time. Nestor said that was OK, he’d probably sussed that I didn’t have it in me to be a tough guy. But he made it very clear what would happen to me if I talked. I thought we were sorted. I turned down every job I was offered even though I still had some decent Uzis lying around. But I kept thinking that something was brewing. That I would be bumped off. So I was almost relieved when the cops came and I got put away. I thought I’d be safer in prison. They got me on an old case—I was only an accessory, but they had arrested two guys who both said that I had supplied them with weapons. I confessed to it on the spot.”
Rover laughed hard. He started to cough. He leaned back in his chair.
“In eighteen hours I’m getting out of this place. Haven’t got a clue what’s waiting for me on the outside. But I know that Nestor knows I’m coming out even though I’m being released four weeks early. He knows everything that goes on in here and with the police, I’m sure of it. He has eyes and ears everywhere. So what I’m thinking is, if he wanted me dead, he might as well have me killed in here rather than wait for me to get out. What do you think?”
Rover waited. Silence. The boy didn’t look as if he thought anything at all.
“Whatever happens,” Rover said, “a little blessing can’t hurt, can it?”
It was as if a light came on in Sonny’s eyes at the word “blessing” and he raised his right hand to signal that Rover should come closer and kneel. Rover knelt on the prayer rug in front of the bed. Franck didn’t let any of the other inmates have rugs on the floor in their cells—it was a part of the Swiss model they used at Staten: no superfluous items in the cells. The number of personal possessions was limited to twenty. If you wanted a pair of shoes, you would have to give up two pairs of underpants or two books. Rover looked up at Sonny’s face. The boy moistened his dry, scaly lips with the tip of his tongue. His voice was surprisingly light even though the words came slowly, but his diction was perfectly clear.
“All earthly and heavenly gods have mercy on you and forgive your sins. You will die, but the soul of the penitent sinner shall be led to Paradise. Amen.”
Rover bowed his head. He felt the boy’s hand on his shaved head. Sonny was left-handed, but in this case it didn’t take a genius to work out that he had a shorter life expectancy than most right-handed people. The overdose could happen tomorrow or in ten years—who knew? But Rover didn’t think for one minute that the boy’s hand was healing like people said. Nor did he really believe this business with the blessing. So why was he here? Well, religion was like fire insurance; you never really thought you’d need it, so when people said that the boy was prepared to take your sins upon himself and didn’t want anything in return, why not say yes to some peace of mind? What Rover did wonder was how someone like Sonny could have killed in cold blood. It made no sense to him. Perhaps it was like the old saying: The devil has many disguises.
“Salaam alaikum,” the voice said, and the hand was lifted.
Rover stayed where he was with his head lowered. Probed the smooth backside of the gold tooth with his tongue. Was he ready now? Ready to meet his Maker if that was his fate? He raised his head.
“I know you never ask for anything in return, but . . .”
He looked at the boy’s bare foot which he had tucked under. He saw the needle marks in the big vein on the instep. “I did my last stretch in Botsen and getting hold of drugs in there was easy, no problem. Botsen isn’t a maximum security prison, though. They say Franck has made it impossible to smuggle anything into Staten, but”—Rover stuck his hand in his pocket—“that’s not quite true.”
He pulled something out. It was the size of a mobile phone, a gold-plated object shaped like a pistol. Rover pressed the trigger. A small flame shot out of the muzzle. “Seen one of these before? Yeah, I bet you have. The officers who searched me when I came here certainly had. They told me they were selling smuggled cigarettes on the cheap if I was interested. So they let me keep the lighter. I don’t suppose they’d read my rap sheet. No one bothers doing their job properly these days—makes you wonder how anything in this country ever gets done.”
Rover weighed the lighter in his hand.
“Eight years ago I made two of these. I ain’t boasting if I tell you that nobody in Norway could have done a better job. I’d been contacted by a middleman who told me his client wanted a gun he would never have to hide, a gun that didn’t look like a gun. So I came up with this. It’s funny how people’s minds work. At first they think it’s a gun, obviously. But once you’ve shown them that you can use it as a lighter, they forget all about it being a gun. They still think it could also be a toothbrush or a screwdriver. But not a gun, no way. So . . .”
Rover turned a screw on the underside of the handle.
“It takes two 9mm bullets. I call it the Happy Couple Killer.” He aimed the barrel at the young man. “One for you, sweetheart . . .” Then he pointed it at his own temple. “And one for me . . .” Rover’s laughter sounded strangely lonely in the small cell.
“Anyway. I was only supposed to make one; the client didn’t want anyone else to know the secret behind my little invention. But I made another one. And I took it with me for protection, in case Nestor decided to try to kill me while I was inside. But as I’m getting out tomorrow and I won’t need it any more, it’s yours now. And here . . .”
Rover pulled out a packet of cigarettes from his other pocket. “Because it’ll look weird if you have a lighter, but no cigarettes, right?” He then took out a yellowed business card saying “Rover’s Motorcycle Workshop” and slipped it into the cigarette packet.
“Here’s my address in case you ever have a motorbike that needs fixing. Or want to get yourself one hell of an Uzi. Like I said, I still have some lying—”
The door opened outwards and a voice thundered: “Get out, Rover!”
Rover turned round. The trousers of the prison officer in the doorway were sagging due to the large bunch of keys that dangled from his belt, although this was partly obscured by his belly, which spilled over the lining like rising dough. “His Holiness has a visitor. A close relative, you could say.” He guffawed with laughter and turned to the man behind him. “No offence, eh, Per?”
Rover slipped the gun and the cigarette packet under the duvet on the boy’s bed and took one last look at him.
Then he left quickly.
The prison chaplain attempted a smile while he automatically straightened his ill-fitting dog collar. A close relative. No offence. He felt like spitting into the prison officer’s fat, grinning face, but instead he nodded to the inmate emerging from the cell and pretended to recognise him. Glanced at the tattoos on his forearms. The madonna and a cathedral. But no, over the years the faces and the tattoos had become too numerous for him to distinguish between them.
The chaplain entered. He could smell incense. Or something that reminded him of incense. Like drugs being cooked.
The young man on the bed didn’t look up, but he nodded slowly. Per Vollan took it to mean that his presence had been registered, acknowledged. Approved.
He sat down on the chair and experienced a slight discomfort when he felt the warmth from the previous occupant. He placed the Bible he had brought with him on the bed next to the boy.
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