“I have been a kind of undercover person from birth almost,” says one of the two main characters in Michael Gruber's “The Good Son,” “and I am bound to offend those who like neat classifications.” Not an improbable statement, coming from a major player in a spy thriller — if “The Good Son” can be accurately described as a spy thriller. It is that, and yet it's a lot more. Like Theodore Laghari, the above-quoted “undercover person,” this novel slides in and out of conventional identities with a facility that would be disturbing if it weren't so damn smooth. Adeptly plotted yet philosophical, worldly yet preoccupied with moral truth, it's a book to provoke comparisons with John le Carré and Graham Greene, while at the same time eluding the ideological constraints that weigh so heavy on those masters.
Theo is the son of Farid, “a grayish presence who teaches the development of international law at Georgetown and spends a lot of time with his large collection of British Empire stamps,” and Sonia, a woman of infinite variety and a checkered past, currently working as a Jungian therapist. En route to a conference on the therapeutic aspects of regional conflict resolution in Kashmir, Sonia and her fellow luminaries are taken hostage by a band of mujahedeen in Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province. Theo — who works as a “shooter” for a semilegal special-forces outfit he describes as the U.S. Army's “own little CIA” — determines that the only way to save his mother is to engineer an incident that will trigger a U.S. attack on Pakistan, providing the cover for him to extract her from the village where she's being held.