NORWEGIAN BY NIGHT: DEREK B. MILLER

Posted: December 30, 2013 in Book Awards, Historical, Norway, review

519EtidIF6L._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_SX385_SY500_CR,0,0,385,500_SH20_OU02_“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.

“Romeo and Juliet. Find a boy and girl from different sides who are fucking. Get the Serbian one to find out if the community is protecting the boy. In return, we don’t tell their parents. And their parents don’t kill them. Makes sense, no?”  

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.

The author 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. 

Seven hundred and seventy -two Norwegian men, women and children, who were Jewish, were rounded up by the Norwegian police and the Germans, and deported. Most were sent to Auschwitz.

Thirty-four survived.        

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Comments
  1. So glad you liked this one, Norman. All too often, a book doesn’t live up to its promise. That’s why I’m always wary of ‘hype’ In this case though, the book lives up to expectations and then some, and I’m glad you thought so too.

    • Norman Price says:

      Margot-don’t get me started on ‘hype’. Norwegian By Night exceeded my expectations and for once flashbacks, real or imagined, added to the story.

    • Margot, I am very surprised that you mention hype in relation to this novel. Is that now the case in the US? The opposite is true really. Set in Norway but written in English by an English speaker, Miller could not find an “English” publisher for his novel. Indeed, it was eventually picked up by a Norwegian publisher and translated into Norwegian to be published there. And then things moved on. Luckily for us all. If anything, this one’s been a slow burn by word of mouth, as Seb Faulk’s Birdsong was many moons ago.

      I included Norwegian by Night in my “best of” reads for 2013, making it the best debut. The only reason I’ve not reviewed it yet – and that’s something I hope to rectify soon – is that life was difficult for me in 2013 and I never managed to type out the words earlier.

      To anyone reading this: please have no doubt that Norwegian by Night is a superb novel, and one at the literary as opposed to commercial end of the scale for thrillers.

      • Rhian – Thanks for sharing the way word ofNorwegian by Night has spread. It’s been getting more attention in the U.S., which is why I mentioned what I did about ‘hype.’ If I gave the wrong impression my apologies.

      • Margot, it’s good to hear it’s getting attention there now too. Another interesting aside here: in English, it was published in Australia before the UK and the US! It really did have quite a journey getting attention in countries with a penchant for Nordic Noir.

      • Interesting background – thanks, Rhian.

  2. Another great review for this book- I’m going to have to read it! Thanks Norman.

  3. Barbara says:

    I’m so glad you enjoyed this book. I loved it. You captured why so well.

  4. TracyK says:

    As I commented in one of your earlier posts, I just got this book. So I am very glad you liked it so much. I am looking forward to reading it.

  5. […] Read this article: norwegian by night: derek b. miller – Crime Scraps Review … […]

  6. Norman Price says:

    Moira and TraceyK- I do hope you read this one and enjoy it as much as I did. It was nice to be able to end the year with a positive review.

  7. It is indeed a fabulous book, Norm, as you say. A very worthy winner for the Creasey in 2013, I think. It has great depth and Sheldon is so easy to fall in love with.

  8. kathy d. says:

    I loved this book, and agree that it was fabulous, I grew up with Jewish immigrant relatives, and Miller portrays the humor perfectly. I laughed, I cried, I admired the writing.

    I may have to buy a copy to loan to friends,

  9. kathy d. says:

    Also, Miller shows that a good book does not need to have dead bodies and blood and torture everywhere, In fact, it is stellar without those elements, Nothing takes the place of good writing, an interesting protagonist and plot and creativity.

  10. Norman Price says:

    Kathy the fact that people with no Jewish connections whatever still love the book, is a tribute to Miller’s skill.
    Although I think that many of the idiosyncrasies of those Jewish immigrant generations are in fact universal to old people from all backgrounds. I agree though their humour is unique, perhaps because they had such hard lives in their old countries.

  11. kathy d. says:

    Jewish humor is unique though.

  12. kathy d. says:

    Jewish humor contains tragedy and comedy, often self-depracating humor. It reflects the very hard lives and centuries if discrimination faced by Jews in Europe. Nathan Ausubel’s A Treasury of Jewish Folklore, originally published in 1948 is great. He also wtote A Treasury of Jewish Humor.

    “First you laugh at a Jewish joke or quip. Then, against your will, you suddenly fall silent and thoughtful. And that is because Jews are so frequently jesting philosophers. A hard life has made them realists, realists without illusion.” – A Treasury of Jewish Humor, 1951.

  13. […] all read at least a half-dozen glowing reviews of it (and if you haven’t, check out Norman’s which is my favourite) and I doubt there’s anything new or interesting I can add to the […]

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