Boston-born Derek B Miller is a senior fellow with the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research, with a slew of security-based academic degrees behind him. It is an unlikely background for the writer of one of the best novels of the year, the majestic Norwegian by Night, starring the magnetic, 82-year-old hero, Sheldon Horowitz.
Horowitz, an ex-marine, is a man brimming with memory and regret. With great reluctance, he has moved to Oslo to live with his granddaughter Rhea and her husband, Lars. It is not a good fit. Sheldon and his late wife, Mabel, brought up Rhea after her father, Sheldon’s son Saul, was killed in Vietnam but Sheldon, at the opening of the novel, seems profoundly out of place. He is an old New York Jew, and Oslo is, to put it mildly, not his milieu.
But then something happens to upset the Norwegian applecart. In the apartment complex where Sheldon lives, a woman is murdered. He rescues the woman’s six-year-old son and goes on the run with him in one of the most improbable link-ups in fiction, drawing deeply on his experience of 50 years earlier when he was a marine in Korea.
En route, we learn a great deal about Sheldon’s relationship with his late son, his guilt and despair at his loss and that of Mabel. She had been sure that Sheldon had dementia. The reader knows better.
We also learn of Sheldon’s passionate Jewish identity, Miller craftily introducing the subject into the mouths of Norwegian policemen, almost none of whom has ever encountered a Jew.
Norwegian by Night is much more than an enjoyable thriller. It is a beautifully written tale of loss and love and, in Sheldon Horowitz, Miller has created an outstanding, if unlikely, hero.