I am totally knocked out by NORWEGIAN BY NIGHT, a thriller crossed with a fish-out-of-water sensibility. But this fish is much smarter than the land dwellers among which it finds itself. Sheldon Horowitz is the fish, the United States is his water, and the land is Oslo, Norway. Horowitz, an 82-year-old Marine, is Stephen Hunter’s Bob Lee Swagger with a touch of Being There’s Chauncey Gardiner. Throw in a bit of Fargo and THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN (which is referenced and quoted here), and imagine Elmore Leonard overseeing the whole thing, and you have NORWEGIAN BY NIGHT.
"NORWEGIAN BY NIGHT is a winner from the very first paragraph. Miller’s prose is shot through with a cinematic vision that puts you right there as the story unfolds. You’ll be smiling, laughing and maybe even crying all the way through it."
This is not to say that the book is a well-done pastiche. Author Derek B. Miller, an American who resides in Oslo, has created a unique, character-driven debut work all his own, which is by turns exciting, sad, uplifting, literate and, above all, readable. Horowitz, a widower and former watch repairman, has been grudgingly expatriated from the comfortable and familiar environs of New York and resettled none too easily into the Oslo apartment that he shares with Rhea, his well-meaning granddaughter, and Lars, her almost too-good-to-be-true new husband. Rhea, raised practically since birth by her grandfather and deceased grandmother, is a dutiful offspring, though she is somewhat at loose ends as to how to deal with the dementia that has a loose but nonetheless determined grip upon Horowitz’s thought processes. A Korean War veteran who may or may not have seen combat duty, Horowitz imagines that every Korean he sees (and a few who he doesn’t) holds a grudge against him as the result of his military service. He also carries a boatload of guilt over the death of his only son --- the father who Rhea never knew --- in Vietnam.
Still, whatever the degree of impairment of his mental faculties, Horowitz remains a Marine. Thus, when an episode of domestic violence in their apartment complex turns deadly, Horowitz intervenes, removing the victim’s young son from the scene and going on the run with the Oslo police and a gang of mindlessly violent Kosovan-Albanian drug dealers in hot but fruitless pursuit. Language barriers abound, and witnessing how Horowitz navigates his way over, under and around them makes the book worth reading all by itself. Every word of the tale is special, from Horowitz’s conversations with the dead and his flashbacks (real and imaginary) to the tumultuous climax, which includes the introduction of an extremely important and frightening character.
Another plus is Sigrid Odegard, a just-turned-40, recently promoted Chief Inspector with the Oslo Police Department, a small town girl who came to the big city and worked her way up the ladder. She is tasked with investigating the incident that sparked Horowitz’s well-intended abduction of the child and, by extension, finding the pair. What is especially interesting is that she doesn’t so much understand Horowitz as gets him before she ultimately meets him. In addition to being one of the smartest people in the book, Sigrid has a droll sense of humor, a trait she shares with Horowitz, the drug dealers, and pretty much everyone we encounter in this tale. It’s an element that contrasts nicely with the dark though not jet-black subject matter.
NORWEGIAN BY NIGHT is a winner from the very first paragraph. Miller’s prose is shot through with a cinematic vision that puts you right there as the story unfolds. You’ll be smiling, laughing and maybe even crying all the way through it. If there is any justice at all, this book will find itself on a number of “Best Of” lists for 2013 and will be the recipient of countless awards. If Miller would like to bring back any of these wonderful characters, particularly the irresistible Chief Inspector Odegard, I would be a happy man. Strongly recommended, particularly for anyone who is old enough to know that the light at the end of that tunnel is an oncoming train --- or worse (that would be me) --- or young enough to have parents at that age (you).
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on July 11, 2013