49 of 52 people found the following review helpful
It is a long, lo-o-ong time since a book made me cry. Truly cry. And a book that made me laugh and cry? Never.
This is the most dazzling debut. Where has Derek B. Miller been? Where does he spring from? The back fly-leaf of Norwegian By Night tells us that he was born and raised in Boston and now lives in Oslo with his wife and children. He is the director of The Policy Lab and a senior fellow with the UN Institute for Disarmament Research. He has a PhD from the University of Geneva and an MA from Georgetown University in co-operation with St. Catherine's College, Oxford. "But enough with the credentials already," as Miller might have his hero, Sheldon, say. "Get on with the plot!"
Which is this: Sheldon Horowitz is a grumpy, guilt-driven 82-year old war vet who lives in New York and is recently widowed. His grand-daughter insists that he come to live with her and her Norwegian husband in Oslo. There are only 1000 Jews in Norway amongst a population of five million. Sheldon is one of them. How will he adjust? And should he interfere when he hears a violent argument erupting from the upstairs flat where a woman and her son are clearly in terrible trouble? To his mind, Europe turned a deaf ear and a blind eye to the Jews' plight in the Second World War; he is not going to make the same mistake. Instead, he makes another. A different and devastating one.
Well, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. This book is packed with them too. Sheldon is a remarkable, unique and highly memorable character. Can the author really have conjured this tragicomic creation out of thin air? When his grand-daughter Rhea argues that she doesn't want to rent out the spare room in the Oslo flat saying, "It feels weird knowing strange people are under your feet all the time", Sheldon counters with, "That's because you don't have kids. You get used to that feeling." He also has intense dialogues with God who takes the human-ghost guise of an old friend of his. There is time travel to other decades, other wars. There is fascinating insight into the immigrant situation in liberal Norway: "How tolerant should we be of intolerance?" And running throughout this amazing many-layered book, there is a first-rate thriller that will have your heart in your mouth.
This book is one of a kind and out on its own. Mr Miller, may I thank you for what I am utterly confident is going to prove to be my read of the year?
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
An old man's life is turned upside down as his granddaughter & her (Norwegian) husband move to Norway & take him with them.
Once there he, Sheldon, makes no bones about the fact he misses New York, his job as a watch repairer & his now dead wife & best friend.
Those around Sheldon suspect he is slipping into dementia as he reminisces about a wartime career they doubt he had & he loses himself in memories & regret.
This all gets blown sky high when an abused woman & her boy turn up on his doorstep & he must decide what to do for the best.
This is certainly not without flaw. Sheldon is the main character & everyone else involved are really little more than sketches. The constant flashbacks tend to slow the pace on occasion and there is a throwaway attitude to Europe as a whole.
The villains are a bit 2 dimensional and the ending feels a little rushed.
However it has to be said that for all that this really does work and in Sheldon introduces a fantastically real & loveable old coot who may just have one last adventure in him.
The Use of Norway as a backdrop to events refreshes things and opens a nice few moments of surprise & humour as our 'hero' struggles to understand those around him.
There is a huge seam of emotion and deep feeling of loss that permeates the whole book and elevates to well above just another police procedural. You have to admire the courage of a writer who believes in his central character to such a degree that he allows nothing, including plot, pace or other characters to interfere with the reader bonding with him.
Normally this would be a huge risk but I have to say that in this instance it truly pays off.
Sheldon Horowitz is destined to become a literary name known by many.
I picked this up on the off chance it would pass a few hours. I wasn't wrong! A really enjoyable read and one I will return to more than once.
I would have dropped a star due to some omissions but in truth this is still a well rounded and truly entertaining read.
If Derek Miller can come anywhere near this level of finesse in his next novel then I can't wait.
There is some salty language and adult themes throughout.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on 16 February 2013
This is a debut novel and a very good one at that. I bought it thinking that it will be a good example of Norwegian style crime writing, but it is a bit different from what I expected. The author is an American living in Norway, probably for a short time, and he imports an old American man, also new to Norway, as his central character. He brings with him a lot of baggage that is deftly incorporated into the plot. The villains are Kosovars and only one of the characters is Norwegian. The portrayal of the old man with a declining intellect and a fund of guerrilla warfare knowledge is masterful, the plot is tight and the denouement tense and explosive. A page turner.
I shall watch this writer with interest, as his style, if he stays in Norway, is certain to become more "Norwegian"
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 12 February 2013
A thoughtful book that marries the excitement of an action thriller with a deep insight into one man's life and his interactions with his family and those around him. And a wonderful advert for being over 80.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Aged eighty-two, a recent widower considered to be showing signs of dementia, former US Marine and Jewish watch repairer Sheldon Horowitz quits New York to live in Oslo with Rhea, the granddaughter he brought up, and her patient Norwegian husband Lars. Sheldon is caught up in the brutal murder of a neighbour, and goes on the run to save her son from being seized and possibly harmed by his violent father, a Kosovan refugee.
Original and more than yet another Scandinavian crime thriller, this is also a reflection on life, of the kind that perhaps one can only make when approaching the end of it. For Sheldon, it is only rational for the elderly to become more preoccupied with the past when their earthly future is limited. Throughout life, "sanity is the thick soup of distraction we immerse ourselves in to keep from remembering that we're gonna bite it". It can be "overwhelming and painful" to harbour "memories accompanied by too much nostalgia". And much more in this vein.
Sheldon appears not so much senile as from his youth eccentric, over-intense, too imaginative for his own good. His sharp, wisecracking wit pastes over the cracks of deep anguish and regret. Haunted by the holocaust, too young to enlist for World War Two, his spell of combat in Korea - if it really happened - only creates further demons, guilt over strangers killed in cold blood, and the pressure he places on his own son Saul to fight in Vietnam brings further grief. Although this sounds gloomy, the writing is peppered with quirky humour, a vivid sense of place and perceptive portrayal of relationships.
Admittedly, the tone adopted is often that of a thoughtful man with a PhD in international relations i.e. the author, rather than a non-intellectual watch repairer. I spotted some small glitches in the plot and implausible police practice, which I cannot reveal. Some of the minor characters, such as the "baddies" or Kosovan immigrants are very negative stereotypes, even if largely seen through the jaundiced eyes of a police officer. I would like to think that, in writing about America as "our champion and our future", Europeans as weak and the Norwegians as naïve in their liberalism, Miller simply portrays the viewpoints of his characters rather than some personal, often Jewish-centred hobby horses. I agree that his meshing of a crime thriller with psychological literary fiction, comedy with unremitting violence, is sometimes a little uneven.
The end is disappointing - too rushed after the detailed development of most scenes. I do not mind ambiguous endings, but felt that the last paragraph might have been added for the wrong reasons - a point which I hope will be clear when you reach the conclusion.
I could not help making comparisons with the Swedish bestseller, "The hundred- year- old man who climbed out of a window and disappeared", to the detriment of the latter. "Norwegian by Night" is much better written, more profound and genuinely funny. The sometimes unexpected switches between reality and fantasy, such as Sheldon's conversations with pawnbroker Bill, or his accompanying of Saul in Vietnam, made me think of "Slaughterhouse Five" so I was interested to see the inclusion of Vonnegut in the author's acknowledgements.
Five stars for the development of Sheldon's character and the use of imagined scenes to convey some powerful images or telling insights.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
I must admit to having a slight crisis of confidence in writing this review, questioning whether I could do justice to just how marvellous this book is. From the first few pages, I was totally immersed in the life of Sheldon Horowitz, our curmudgeonly hero of the piece: a man haunted by the ghosts of his former life and coping with the daily frustrations of growing old. From the synopsis, it is impossible to harness all the themes and subtlety of prose that this book conveys to the reader. On one level, not only does the book contain all the quintessential elements of a Scandinavian crime novel, it also encompasses the Korean, Vietnam and Balkan conflicts, and on a more emotional level, presents a poignant and meditative examination of aging and regret, that unusually for this cynical reader, really touched me, engaging me even more with the characters and the multi-faceted plot.
As the book opens we get our first encounter with the beautifully realised character of Sheldon Horowitz, uprooted from his native America following the death of his wife, to live in Norway with his granddaughter Rhea and her husband Lars, and the dynamics of this relationship quickly become clear. Indeed, Sheldon's first response to Rhea urging him to move to Norway is to tell her to get stuffed, feeling his independence is under threat and resenting her assertion that he is in any way senile. He is stubborn and headstrong, but ingrained with a mordant sense of wit and a deep compassionate humanity, particularly evident in his utter determination to protect the life of the young boy he goes on the run with, and his seemingly testy, but ultimately loving relationship with Rhea. What we recognise at the core of his character is a wiliness and a steely determination tempered by the tragedies he has experienced in the past, in particular the loss of his comrades in Korea and the death of his son Saul (Rhea's father) in Vietnam. Throughout the book, Miller carefully incorporates touching vignettes of Sheldon's past life experiences, that convey how a man must rise above tragedy to hold onto his sanity and compassion, and how this dicates Sheldon's actions, that seem foolhardy at first, to keep those closest to him safe from harm. He is without a doubt one of the most perfectly conceived and constructed characters that I have ever read, and one that will stay with me for a long time.
The plot is completely engaging, constructed as a powerful story of flight and the will for survival. Following a brutal murder in Sheldon's apartment he, without hesitation, goes on the run with the murder victim's young son, quickly realising that the boy's life is under threat. Hampered by the barrier of language, Sheldon and his charge pick their way through the beautifully portrayed backwoods of Norway, pursued not only by the boy's sinister father and his cronies, but by the Norwegian police. Every protagonist in this scenario is utterly convincing, and with the poignant relationship developing between Sheldon and the boy, stirring up an evocation of Sheldon's own relationship with his dead son, Saul, the plot is multi-layered and compelling from start to finish. The motif of war runs strongly throughout the book, not only in Sheldon's reminiscences, but in his reliance on the skills he gained in Korea to outwit those who pursue him and the boy, leading to a dramatic and heartfelt denouement which threatens all involved.
I can only say in closing that I would urge everyone to read this exceptional debut with its powerful and emotive themes, but a book that retains all the tension of a totally authentic Scandinavian crime thriller. I cannot praise it highly enough and on this showing `Norwegian By Night' could well be one of my top crime reads this year. An outstanding read.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 20 November 2013
Well, that was great - a spirited fusion of Nordic Noir and wry Jewish humour!
The plot is simple enough in outline: Sheldon Horowitz is a recently bereaved New Yorker who finds himself living with his daughter and her stoic Norwegian boyfriend in Oslo. Witnessing a horrible crime, he goes on the run with a young Balkan boy. Sheldon is haunted - quite literally - by his past. He is visited by lost friends and and savaged with grief and guilt over the death of his cherished only son, Saul.
The book has some terrific characters such as the Norwegian detective Sigrid who cautiously, intelligently tracks down Sheldon and the murderous gang. There's a cast of Kosovan gangsters whose brutality is shocking and shockingly understandable.
But at the heart of it all is Sheldon: a terrific creation whose humour, deep and remorseless self-questioning and proud resourcefulness comprise a true hero.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 2 December 2013
I loved this book from start to finish. It engaged me right from the beginning. It touched on so many different isuues without getting bogged down on any one of them but kept a fast flow all the way through. The central character was portrayed brilliantly and sympathetically but without over dominating proceedings. I was drawn in and lived the book which is what I think a good book should do.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 26 April 2013
This was a little more in depth than your average crime thriller. It touches on universal themes of old age, loss and grief and familial relationships. To some extent, the focus on the central character's past, sometimes caused the narrative to lose some pace especially if you are not the kind of person especially interested in Korean/ Vietnam war stories. On the whole however, it was an intelligent and at times subtle read - plenty of action for those who require it - and an exciting denoument. Do not expect this to be a police procedural drama - it really is the story of how someone caught up in the guilt of their past, tries to save a young boy's life.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 13 November 2013
Norwegian by Night is the best thing I have read in ages. Sheldon Horowitz - former soldier, former watch-mender, former father, former husband - lives in Oslo with his grand-daughter and her too-nice Norwegian husband. He's still being tracked by the VietCong, but when he has to go on the run from some decidedly dodgy and less-than friendly Serbians, he realises his army days are longer ago than he can seem to remember.
Everything about this book is well done - the plot, the description, the characters: Sheldon himself is a fantastic creation. I can't wait to see more from Derek B. Miller!