The Good Son by You-jeong Jeong

Little, Brown

If you judge a book by its cover you will probably deduce fairly quickly that the titular good son is probably anything but. There’s that ominous blue shade, the rained on window effect, that pretty damning bloodstain in front of the young man’s eye, not to mention the tagline – “How well does a mother know her son?” Better than he thinks, as is often the case with self-absorbed young men who think they’re doing a better job of hiding their illicit underage smoking or late-night gaming. Mothers have that instinct, mothers know best. If only our young hero would have bought into the stereotypes.

Yu-jin wakes up covered in blood. Always a bad sign. Is it a mere nose bleed, or maybe cat scratches administered by a furious feline during the night, and he passed out in alarm, awaking with no recollection of said demon cat’s attack? Sadly no, it is most certainly the blood of another and it’s ev-er-ywhere. Now, Yu-jin has been prone to blackouts these past few days. He has secretly stopped taking his epilepsy medicine in the hopes that his thinking will come clearer as he prepares to enter law school, that he is older now since he started taking the drugs in his teenage years and better able to control seizures.

He has neglected to tell his overprotective mother about this development, instead basking in the secrecy. He has taken to sneaking out at night and going for runs, he’s Good sonremembering things from his childhood that he has long kept buried and wants to see where these recollections take him. The only downside are these damn blackouts. And now the blood-soaked bed he’s in of course.

It’s not hard to guess as to where the story goes next; but your guess may be incorrect. Taking place over about two days the story also recalls incidents and events from times past that go towards piecing together the bits of the puzzle. What happened to his father and brother? Why did he have to give up swimming at the top of his game? What, or who was his mother protecting him from? As the story progesses it’s best to stop guessing or speculating and instead let it take you on its engaging, intriguing and eventually really rather thrilling journey.

Don’t let the Korean setting put you off, if you have fears that some cultural differences may be lost on you; author You-jeong Jeong weaves a tale of mystery and suspense that is excellently translated into English by Chi-Young Kim. It takes place in a new suburb of Seoul, a capital city like any other in the world, full of high rise buildings, over-priced bars and restaurants, professional and respected men and women trying to make it in their chosen careers and students studying any number of subjects. Yu-jin’s adopted brother Hae-jin is in his element at film school and high hopes are on Yu-jin to become a successful lawyer. They’re united in their mother’s love, a mother whose leash extends much further for Hae-jin than it does Yu-jin for reasons that are as clear – his health isn’t 100 percent, his older brother died young – as they are murky; Yu-jin’s psychiatrist aunt is the one who prescribed the medicine and requires constant updates on his condition from his mother, his aunt is the one who treats him like there’s something not quite right with him.

As far as beach (or garden, or mercifully cool living room sofa) reads go, this is a good one. The reader is launched straight into the action – “The smell of blood woke me. It was intense, as though my whole body were inhaling it.” – and viscerally so, driven by the author’s refusal to shy away from every nook and cranny of the scene of a murder. The chapters are long and breaks infrequent so it’s one to sit down with and commit to; you probably won’t want to put it down anyway. For any fans of a good thriller this will be right up your alley; character driven to lure you into false trusts and plot driven to keep the pace going, you’ll be turning the pages with increasing velocity as it comes to its explosive conclusion.

First published in The Tuam Herald on 11th July 2018

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