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Book Review: The Good Son by You-jeong Jeong

The Good Son of the title wakes to find himself in a nightmare situation, one where he has no recollection of what happened and that only looks worse with every minute he delays reporting it.

You wake up covered in blood
There’s a body downstairs
Your mother’s body

You didn’t do it? Did you?
How could you, you’ve always been The Good Son

When Yu-jin wakes up covered in blood, and finds the body of his mother downstairs, he decides to hide the evidence and pursue the killer himself. 

Then young women start disappearing in his South Korean town. Who is he hunting? And why does the answer take him back to his brother and father who lost their lives many years ago.

You-jeong Jeong positions us inside the head of her main character from the instant the metallic tang of blood wakes Yu-jin up. We walk the scene of the crime with him, making each discovery as he does, and all the while listening to his inner monologue. And it’s this which made The Good Son so interesting for me. I had to know how he was going to piece together what had happened the night before but also how hiding the evidence and going the investigation alone was going to pan out for him.

We soon find out the cause of Yu-jin’s confusion and realise that he’s not going to be a reliable narrator. Not that he hides this fact. Early on in the book, he tells us that

Honesty is neither my strong suit nor something I aspire to

This, together with his erratic reasoning and behaviour upon discovering his mother’s body, certainly don’t seem to correspond with that expected of a diligent student waiting for law school entrance exam results. Or someone with the focus he once must have possessed to become a champion swimmer.

Yu-jin’s task is complicated by the flashbacks he experiences, which are by their very nature fragmentary. Likewise, entries from his mother’s journal at first appear to be more of an uncomfortable invasion of privacy than in any way helpful.

I was Mother’s only son. That was the rule.

Yet there are always exceptions to the rule and that’s also the case here. There was another son who died when Yu-jin was only nine years old and starting to swim competitively; and there’s now a cuckoo in the nest in the form of his former childhood friend now adoptive brother, Hae-jin, who’s on his way home the morning of Yu-jin’s macabre discovery.

Yu-jin’s feeling of superiority is also partly responsible for backing him more and more into a corner. It’s not something he ever felt towards his mother or his Auntie though. The latter, who works as a psychiatrist and director of Future Pediatric Clinic, is going to be problematic for him when she checks in.

Apart from his late night running, most of the action in The Good Son is more psychological than physical. It’s Yu-jin’s mind which is working overtime to try and find the answers before any one or a combination of the authorities, his adoptive brother or his Auntie discover that his mother’s out of character trip is bogus and actually covering up something far more macabre.

I enjoyed the slow reveal of the story of the night before, and how cleverly You-jeong Jeong maintains the tension. I could have done with stopping for some sugar-filled pancakes at Yongi’s street stall to help deal with that, but only if it had been during daylight hours. Yu-jin’s mind is an absorbing if unsettling place to inhabit and I hope to read more from this author once it becomes available in translation.

The Good Son by You-jeong Jeong is published by Little, Brown in the UK. It is available as an audiobook, ebook, in hardback and in paperback. You can buy it at Amazon UK or on Hive where purchases help support your local independent bookshop.

You-jeong Jeong is South Korea’s leading writer of psychological crime and thriller fiction and the author of four novels. The Good Son is the first of her books to be translated into English.

My thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy via NetGalley

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