Norwegian By Night
Derek B Miller
An extraordinary debut, featuring a memorable hero, Norwegian by Night is the last adventure of a man still trying to come to terms with the tragedies of his life. Compelling and sophisticated, it is both a chase through the woods thriller and an emotionally haunting novel about ageing and regret.
He will not admit it to Rhea and Lars - never, of course not - but Sheldon can't help but wonder what it is he's doing here. Eighty-two years old, and recently widowed, Sheldon Horowitz has grudgingly moved to Oslo, with his grand-daughter and her Norwegian husband. An ex-Marine, he talks often to the ghosts of his past - the friends he lost in the Pacific and the son who followed him into the US Army, and to his death in Vietnam.
When Sheldon witnesses the murder of a woman in his apartment complex, he rescues her six-year-old son and decides to run. Pursued by both the Balkan gang responsible for the murder, and the Norwegian police, he has to rely on training from over half a century before to try and keep the boy safe. Against a strange and foreign landscape, this unlikely couple, who can't speak the same language, start to form a bond that may just save them both.
"What am I going to do there? I’m an American. I’m a Jew. I’m eighty-two. I’m a retired watchmaker. A Marine. A watch repairman. It takes me an hour to pee. Is there a club there I’m unaware of?”
Sheldon Horowitz, an eighty two year old marine sniper who fought in the Korean War, has gone to live with his granddaughter Rhea and her new husband Lars in Oslo after his wife Mabel. When a woman from the Balkans is attacked in the apartment on the floor above he opens the door and lets her and her young son into Rhea’s apartment. But the monster from upstairs kicks in the door, and as Sheldon and the little boy hide in the closet the mother is killed. Sheldon and the young boy, whom he names Paul, go on the run pursued by Kosovar drug dealers, the police, and also by Lars and Rhea who believe Sheldon is suffering from dementia. In fact he is possibly suffering from one of the great curses of old age outliving your contemporaries, and having a lot of memories that rush in at inconvenient times.Throughout this fascinating twist on Nordic crime fiction Sheldon daydreams back over his eventful life, his service in Korea, his marriage, his guilt over the death of his son Saul in Vietnam, and being a Jew.
“It’s complicated, right? Technical ? I wouldn’t understand.” Bill shook his head and whistled. ” You Jews. You’re so clever. There’s nothing you’re not good at.” Sheldon didn’t take the bait. “Staying out of trouble doesn’t seem to be our thing.”
I had sent Karen at Euro Crime my choices for my best five books of the year before I had read Norwegian By Night and now there is no question in my mind I should have included it. Norwegian By Night is a brilliant book full of insights into life, love and loss.
I felt empathy with this story because of my own family’s service in two world wars. I also know quite a bit about the US Marine Corps from my reading when I dreamt of going back to university to study history. My own brand of dementia. We have even driven through the Marine Corps camp at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, in the middle of a military convoy, waved through by a marine who looked about twelve years old. That was back in April 2001 in the days before 9/11 presumably enhanced the security.
Author Derek B. Miller has covered so much ground in a concise 290 pages from the complicity of some Norwegian police in the Holocaust to the Vietnam war, and the story of the Kosovo Liberation Army that went from fighting against Serbian ethnic cleansing to drug running and mass murders.
The author informs the reader about the naive optimism of Norwegian immigration policy and the determination of an old man to retain his dignity in a foreign land. The reader is educated with stories about Rabbi Saul of Tarsus, and Sheldon’s son Saul in Vietnam. It is a wide ranging novel discussing politics, war and the problems of old age. The supporting cast of characters are well drawn especially recently promoted police officer Sigrid Odegard and Sheldon’s granddaughter Rhea, and the simple plot is enhanced by the flashbacks to Korea, the USA and Vietnam.
Hiding a North Korean in Norway is hard. Hiding one in New York is like hiding a tree in a forest.
This is one of those novels that has great characters, as well as blending humour and violence in a way that provides very readable crime fiction that both educates and entertains.
Review by Norman Price, CRIME SCRAPS REVIEW
About Derek B Miller:
Derek B Miller was born in Boston and is now living with his family in Oslo where he is director of The Policy Lab, and a senior fellow with the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research. He has a PhD in International relations from the University of Geneva, and a MA in National Security Studies from Georgetown, in cooperation with St Catherine’s College, Oxford. Norwegian By Night won the CWA John Creasy Debut Dagger for 2013.