Inverarity (inverarity) wrote,

Book Review: Norwegian by Night, by Derek Miller

An octogenarian vs. Balkan mobsters proves the adage about age and treachery beating youth.

Norwegian by Night

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012, 304 pages

Sheldon Horowitz - 82 years old, impatient, and unreasonable - is staying with his granddaughter's family in Norway when he disappears with a stranger's child. Sheldon is an ex-Marine, and he feels responsible for his son's death in Vietnam. Recently widowed and bereft, he talks to the ghosts of his past constantly.

To Norway's cops, Sheldon is just an old man who is coming undone at the end of a long and hard life. But Sheldon is clear in his own mind. He'd heard the boy's eastern European mother being murdered, and he's determined to protect the child from the killer and his Balkan gang. With an endearing combination of dexterity and daring, Sheldon manages to elude the police in what is hostile, foreign territory for him. But what he doesn't know is that the police and the gang both know where he's heading.

Norwegian by Night is the last adventure of a man coming to terms with the tragedy of his own life as he tries to save another's. It combines laconic, deadpan humour, moral seriousness, visceral grief, and narrative tensions in a remarkable way - and Sheldon, in particular, is about to become a famous fictional hero.

Sheldon Horowitz is an octogenarian who talks to himself and his ghosts. He's cranky, curmudgeonly, occasionally wise, and deep down, a mensch who believes in doing the right thing and resents the rest of the world for not doing the same. A Jew from New York who just missed out on fighting the Nazis, but went to Korea as a Marine, he later talked his son into going off to Vietnam. That led to his son's death and he and his wife raising the granddaughter produced by their son's quickie fling with a mother who quickly abandoned her.

Now a widower, he's been brought by his granddaughter, who married a Norwegian, to live with them in Norway. Sheldon is adapting about as well as you'd expect an 82-year-old codger to adapt to being uprooted from New York City to Norway.

One day, while his granddaughter and grandson-in-law are out, the Serbian mother and child next door flee their apartment. Sheldon lets them into his apartment to hide. Unfortunately, the father, who turns out to be a war criminal and a gangster pursuing his son, follows. Sheldon ends up fleeing with the boy, leading both the police and a gang of Balkan mobsters on a chase through the backwoods of Norway.

War and the aftermath of war is a major theme running through the book. The bad guys are casualties of the Serbo-Croatian war and its atrocities. Sheldon lives with bitterness over the Holocaust and is haunted by responsibility for his son's death in Vietnam. He always claimed he was only a clerk in the Marines, but in fact, it turns out he was a sniper. Or was he? His rambling speeches sometimes leave doubt as to whether he's all there and how much of his memories are invented.

Norwegian by Night is interspersed with a lot of interior monologues, mostly from Sheldon's point of view (he waxes pedantic and allegorical in speeches to the boy, conversations with his dead friend, and arguments with God), but his granddaughter, the lady cop who's in charge of finding him, and the bad guys are all POV characters as well.

This story will appeal to anyone who likes the idea of an 82-year-old action hero outwitting cops and terrorists. Sheldon's final stand in the climax is rather predictable, but you just know a former Marine sniper is not going to go down easy.

Rating: 7/10

My complete list of book reviews.
Tags: books, derek miller, reviews

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