Jeong You-jeong: The Good Son
Translated by Kim Chi-young
Little, Brown Book Group, 2018, 322pp
Originally published as 종의 기원, Eunhaengnamu, 2016
A Good Son is one of the books being hailed as the new Scandi Noir, while Amazon is billing it as “The bestselling Korean thriller of the year” – though in a Korean genre that is at best emerging, in translation at any rate, that probably doesn’t take much doing. According to the Guardian, Jeong You-jeong herself admits that “there aren’t very many writers in Korea who write the kinds of books I do.” But with Jeong described as “Korea’s Stephen King” and “Queen of crime” there’s a certain level of anticipation that has built up around this title. How does it measure up?
Very well, as it happens. And if you like your thrillers gory, The Good Son will please you from the start. Han Yu-jin wakes up one morning to find himself caked in blood, and there is an unfeasibly large amount of the stuff in splatters and puddles all over the duplex apartment in which he lives with his mother and adoptive brother Hae-jin. The blood belongs to his recently butchered mother. And the evidence seems to point to Yu-jin as the butcher.
But Yu-jin is on strong medication and has black-outs and seizures. Initially he has no memory of what happened in the early hours of that morning, but gradually the jigsaw starts coming together in his mind.
What follows is an exciting narrative as we watch Yu-jin trying to reconstruct the gaps in his memories; and, looking further back into the past, we examine his complex psychology and ask the questions which constantly present themselves: what is the condition that has required Yu-jin’s medication? What happened to his father and elder brother? What are the motivations which drive his mother and his aunt to keep him on medication and away from the swimming pool which he loved so much?
It’s a detective story with a twist: one where the detective is the chief suspect. If he is guilty, what are the mitigating circumstances? Will anyone believe him? Can he piece together the facts and the motivations before the police or other family members catch up with him? This is an entertaining read which is sufficiently international in outlook for a reader not to require a Korean cultural primer to read. It’s the sort of novel that’s ideal for reading on holiday, when you need a book which doesn’t ask you to try too hard.