Friday, November 19, 2010

The Good Son

The Good Son: A Novel
by Michael Gruber
Henry Holt and Co.
May 2010

The Good Son is a different kind of international spy thriller – intelligent, thoughtful, with a complex plot and interesting well developed characters. There are actually three intertwined story lines that come together at the end of the book. Theo Bailey is a US Army Special Forces fighter who has been wounded in Afghanistan by friendly fire. He is the son of a Pashtu father and a Polish American mother. He was raised as a Pashtu and while still quite young participated in the jihad against the Russians. As a teenager he is taken to the US and becomes an American citizen. While recuperating from his wounds his mother is captured by terrorists in Afghanistan. He develops plans to free her from the terrorists. In a separate thread we are told his mother’s story. Sonia is a former circus performer who has married a wealthy Pakistani and is also a trained Jungian psychologist. Her two daughters are murdered by terrorists in the 1980s. She is kidnapped while leading a peace conference in Afghanistan. In the third thread we meet Cynthia Lam, an analyst at the National Security Agency charged with monitoring intercepts from South Asia. The events surrounding the attempts to release Sonia and the other hostages bring together the stories of Theo, Sonia and Cynthia.

I know I have not distilled this plot well in my description but the first half of the book where the characters are introduced is a really good read. The detail that the author provides relating to the Afghani and Pakistani culture enriches this story. Descriptions of the food, the family and clan life and the different sects of the Muslin religion were educational and enjoyable to read. The author makes a real effort to illustrate the differences between Western culture and the Muslin tradition. For the most part this works.

As I write this review I can see how wild this plot seems but let me tell you it worked for me right up until the last few chapters. The author was so skilled and the story presentation so strong that I was sure the ending would life up to my expectations. Sadly not true. So many implausible things happen in the last 50 pages I was stunned. Not only were the events contrived, major characters acted totally out of character.

So, I still recommend this book despite the end. It has a ripped from the headlines feel, strong characterizations, complex plotting and a unique look at the Muslin jihad.

I read a copy of this book borrowed from the Free Library of Philadelphia.

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