Norwegian by Night
by Derek B. Miller
Review: Following the death of his wife, an 82-year-old New Yorker with no local family or friends is persuaded by his recently married — and newly pregnant — granddaughter to move to Norway and live in a ground-floor apartment in their house. But he has less a sense of belonging there than alone in his old home … until he meets up with a young boy who is in a similar situation such as his own, a foreigner in a foreign land, as it were, in Norwegian by Night by Derek B. Miller.
Sheldon Horowitz loves his granddaughter Rhea and is tolerant of her husband Lars, and is grateful for their looking after him, but he dearly misses his old life. Or what he believes is his old life. He has no regrets about the man he has become, though when pressed, he tends to blame his dead son Saul, Rhea's father, for the situation he finds himself in now. A veteran of the Korean War, Sheldon has vivid memories of his time here; two decades later Saul never returned from his service in Vietnam. And now Sheldon tends to classify everyone he runs in to as either friend or foe … and there are far more foes than friends in the world. Like the neighbors, a family formerly from the Balkans, now living in Norway but fighting as if they never left the homeland. Definitely foes. Probably Nazis. Or working with the North Koreans, who are still chasing Sheldon sixty years later. When the mother of a 7-year-old Serbian boy is murdered, Sheldon decides that it is up to him to protect young Paul and together they flee their families and the authorities on an adventure of discovery and purpose.
Norwegian by Night is most certainly not a mainstream crime thriller. For starters, setting aside the murder of the Serbian woman and the arguably illegal abduction of Paul by Sheldon, crime is not the central issue here. And the book is not much of a thriller. To be sure, it's nearly impossible to classify this book. Which to some readers will be its great appeal, a cross-genre, whimsically quirky, novel; to others, it is merely an incoherent mess. (Too, this is probably intended to be one of those "message" novels, one that takes an editorial point of view on one subject or another to the exclusion of plot, but if so, the message is obscured by the far too many social and political issues that are introduced as tangential elements but not used, or even justified, in any meaningful manner.) Much of the story is told from Sheldon's perspective … in present tense, a narrative form that rarely works in any context and most certainly does not here. It's not at all clear, for example, how much of what Sheldon says or thinks is true. When the police question Rhea, their summary of Sheldon's immediate situation is most accurate: "An eighty-two-year-old demented American sniper is allegedly being pursued by Korean assassins across Norway after fleeing the murder scene. Either before or after." A murder did occur, and Sheldon and Paul are on the run, so that much is established fact. But everything else involving Sheldon is suspect. On some level, 82-year-old Sheldon and 7-year-old Paul are intellectual and emotional equals, characters playing a grand — and possibly imaginary — game on a Norwegian stage. All very strange, indeed.
Acknowledgment: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt provided an ARC of Norwegian by Night for this review.
Review Copyright © 2013 — Hidden Staircase Mystery Books — All Rights Reserved
Location(s) referenced in Norwegian by Night: Norway
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Norwegian by Night by Derek B. Miller
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication Date: May 2013
List Price: $26.00
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Page Author: Lance Wright
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