No way should this work, yet it does, it does.
There are two indelible, outsized characters -- the eponymous son, Theo: raised in Lahore with his father's extended family, then initiated into the jihad against the Russian invasion in Afghanistan, now returned to his parents and a SEALish black-ops type, resolved to do anything to rescue his mother. His mother, Sonia, daughter of a circus family in the States, married into the Laghari family in Lahore, devoutly Muslim and Catholic, trained as a Sufi and later a Jungian analyst, part of a peace conference kidnapped by the new breed of jihadists and trying to do everything in her considerable intellectual powers to gain control of the situation.
Imagine if archetypal exaggerations (like James Bond) didn't just effortlessly kick shit, sip martinis, win (always win) at everything they did, from baccarat to jujitsu? What if they served not just as avatars of aestheticized action heroics but as expert cultural anthropologists, perfect linguists, deep thinkers in global political conflict, sophisticated mystic philosophers? This book in cartoon outline seems like nothing but another of the cartoon-thriller ready-mades--neat new plot gimmicks but very familiar (and, as here
, quite fun) but pretty forgettable. But Gruber does wonders here making Pashtun ethics and Sufi philosophy and NSA infighting seem just as exciting and rigorously involving as the bloodshed and heroics; hell, it's all fully integrated in -- the clockwork mechanics of plot don't just layer on but blossom out of such digressive investigations. Fun, smart, engrossing.