Tag Archive | psychopaths

Book Review: The Good Son

Spoilers ahead.

Like a lot of great thrillers, The Good Son by You-Jeong Jeong starts out with the main character waking up to a mess of some kind, one which he doesn’t understand, and one in which he spends the rest of the book putting the pieces together. Although the story started well, it became apparent far too quickly that Yu Jin was an unreliable narrator, so I couldn’t take any of his reasoning and excuses very seriously.

The mess Yu Jin wakes up to is the murder of his mother–someone has cut her throat and blood is everywhere, especially all over his own person. Throughout this story it is amazing that no one in his Seoul apartment complex seems even aware anything is amiss in his apartment, but that’s kind of how life goes sometimes. For being innocent, Yu Jin sure knows how to tidy up the mess and hide the evidence, and then later on it’s obvious he just doesn’t want to admit to himself what he is, a psychopath who will not only kill people he thinks are in his way, but kill people simply because he gets off on their fear. He also is addicted and triggered by the smell of blood, much like a shark.

Yu Jin is shocked partway through the story to find that he doesn’t have epilepsy but a psychopath tendency. But his shock isn’t real, he’s not like Ba Reum from Mouse who genuinely is surprised and remorseful at the awful person he is. People in general are really good at deluding themselves about themselves and why should psychos be any different? The one thing to admire about him is that he wants to live and to live on his own terms. He does feel a sense of obligation to his family, but not so much as to prevent him from killing them. As to him being a “good” son, he clearly was nothing of the sort, though his adopted brother might have been.

I enjoyed the read, but it’s limited in scope and Yu Jin’s is not as interesting as other fictional psychos like Ripley in The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith. Although Ripley is referenced on the cover of this book, The Good Son cannot hold a candle to that chilling masterpiece. And Yu Jin has few of the amusing and exasperating gamma thoughts and behaviors of Raskolnikov from Crime and Punishment. And the religious aspect does not ring home at all, it’s just there, but offers no food for thought unlike Mouse and C&P. So, although I made it through The Good Son, I found it to be just ok, but not holding its own against better stories of the same genre or similar plots. Maybe it’s better in Korean.

Probably the most thoughtful aspect of the book, was Yu Jin’s family, and how delusional they were about him and about what they could do for him. Clearly, he should have been under care of some kind a long time ago and kept away from society. Yes, Yu Jin maybe had no life, or at least not the life he wanted, but neither did his mother. Her sudden adoption of his friend is her grabbing what she sees as a life line. The adopted brother is someone Yu Jin views in a better light than is warranted. I think it could have to do with Yu Jin’s desire to be out in the world and that his brother goes out in the world all the time. His mother does not; his aunt does not. But, with almost all of the other characters, Yu Jin makes a number of assumptions that are either lies he’s telling both the readers and himself, or are simply flat out wrong. Even at the end of the book, it’s obvious he really doesn’t know, he’s just assuming and imagining things to be a certain way, and it’s more pitiful than chilling.

Better, more thrilling stories of this nature are: The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith, Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky, Atonement by Ian McEwan, and the Korean drama Mouse starring Lee Seung Gi.

Kdrama Mouse, episodes 1-4 review

Spoilers ahead.

With one of the most fascinating opening scenes I have ever watched, Mouse starring Lee Seung Gi has me hooked. Murder mysteries are favorite genre of mine, and as a subset, hunt-for-serial-killer stories are too. These kinds of stories have a lot to offer, from smart detectives, to puzzle box plots, to universal themes surrounding life and death, sin and redemption. The downside is that these stories often glorify murders and serial killers, making them appear much more important than they really are. But, it’s like a magic trick, the trick seems awesome until it’s explained, and then often it seems quite dumb. So it can be with the detective figuring out the criminal, once he or she has figured them out, the prowess of the killer automatically shrinks. So it’s a downside that often has an upside in the end.

Like other Kdramas such as Hello Monster and Flower of Evil, Mouse presents a South Korea awash in serial killers and psychopaths. We get what is often a staple in this genre, an intellectual or professor who studies serial killers. In this tale it is Dr. Daniel Lee (Jo Jae Yun), a doctor and researcher who comes back to Korea from overseas. We soon find he’s really not that smart, as it’s revealed his longtime friend is a serial killer who actually killed his sister and pretended it was robbers. Unsurprisingly, the good doctor only makes it a few episodes. The most important thing about Dr. Lee is that he has isolated a psychopath gene and can predict if one’s baby in the womb has it. However, despite its 99% accuracy, the remaining one percent is a big factor, the kid could actually just be a genius. We are shown a couple of mothers who are debating aborting their children due to getting this test done, and of course they decide to let the kids live, because that’s what any good mother should do.

As with Hello Monster and Flower of Evil, Mouse plays heavily with the concept of psychopathy versus genius and the extent to which a true psychopath who is also a murderer can be redeemed in some way. The main killer in the show appears deeply troubled by his sin that he apparently has no control over. He has to go out and kill people and blames God, the Christian God, for this. His problem with God is very emotional, which is interesting on the face of it, and doesn’t seem to fit with an emotionless psychopath. The opening scene with the mouse and the snake is frightening and awesome, and we are led to believe that this little kid who puts the mouse into the snake’s cage is the killer the detectives will be hunting for.

The writing in this drama will either turn out to be amazing or a let down. It all depends how events and characters play themselves out. These beginning episodes are a knot of stories, characters and plots that will be unwound over time. Misdirection is used heavily. Our main hero is Detective Go Mu Chi (Lee Hee Jun), who is immediately likable and also infuriating. He’s his own best friend and enemy. We are introduced to the detective as a child, where his family comes up against the murderous father of our current serial killer and gets slaughtered and/or permanently maimed. As each family member protects the youngest, Mu Chi is the one who survives physically unscathed, but certainly not otherwise. He is the typical detective, bad past and and suffering from alcoholism, brash and brilliant, and not one to follow the rules. He’s the kind of person who goes around promising the victims’ families that he will someday kill the murderer with his own two hands, because official justice is too slow, if it comes at all.

These first few episodes the audience has been mainly figuring out what’s going and trying to figure out what will happen next, and especially how the star, Lee Seung Gi will fit in into all of this. Lee’s character is Jung Ba Reum, and he’s a neighborhood beat policemen with a heart of gold, but a person who also seems a bit slow on the uptake, certainly not as smart as Detective Go. That’s what we’re led to believe, anyway. We are presented with two babies who have the psychopath gene who are now grown up men in their twenties. It is implied that one of them is the serial killer and true psychopath, and one of them is the one percent, the genius. Dr. Sung Yo Han (Kwon Hwa Woon) is the son of the original serial killer from 25 years ago and he fits the psychopath bill almost entirely, showing little to no emotion. We are actually shown him killing people, but again, it’s a bit muddled with misdirection. The other child surely must be Jung Ba Reum, and he must be something more, because the heart-of-gold thing is just too difficult to believe in a series such as this. At the end of episode 4, we are shown that Ba Reum may actually be the serial killer or another killer. He is holding a child hostage and we’ve already learned the killer is trying to manipulate Detective Go using same child.

Mouse, the title comes from the opening scene with the snake and the mouse but also from the genre. Serial killer hunts are often described as “cat and mouse games,” usually with the serial killer as the cat and the detective as the mouse or vice versa. This story will clearly be a bit different as it is the mouse that is ultimately going to be the hunter, and it’s implied that the snake or cat won’t have a chance in the end. The mouse is likely only one person: The child with the genius gene. My theory is that it is Jung Be Reum, and although he will first seem like either the or a serial killer, his real goal is to entrap the real killer. Even with all the brutal killings, his genius will probably, even if he saves the populace in the end, come across as anathema, simply because he could so easily use his genius for evil. That’s my take on the story so far. Hoping Detective Go really shows his smarts and turns out to be the true hero of the story, but we’ll see. He could very well be the mouse, too, an ordinary human triumphing over the too-brilliant psychopaths. There are also several other young men who could all be the killer or killers. Again, the misdirection is heavy, but the specifics of it will only become clear after more episodes come out. More reviews to come on this fascinating show.