NORWEGIAN BY NIGHT

Written by Derek B. Miller

Review written by LJ Hurst

Initially, L. J. Hurst worked in the backrooms of the media industry. He now divides his time between work for an international scientific publisher and a rather more British independent bookseller. In years past he was a regular attendee at the Shots on the Page Festivals from whence Shots Mag sprung


NORWEGIAN BY NIGHT
Faber and Faber
RRP: £12.99
Released: 7th February 2013
Hbk

Derek B Miller is a specialist in disarmament who works for the United Nations, living in Oslo, though I guess he is an American by birth.

Oslo is not only the city in which the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded it is also the capital of a country which works constantly for peace and reconciliation world-wide. It has some things in its past it would prefer to regret – some felt that Hitler’s troops were allowed in too easily and that Norway’s Jewish congregation was removed without too much complaint, but the guns which sank at least one of the invasion vessels are remembered still and in 2012 the government apologised for its weakness towards the Jews. Furthermore, today, like most of the Scandinavian countries, Norway has a large immigrant population – some intent on integrating, some waiting until they can return to their homelands.

Some are like Rhea Horowitz, an American who has married a Norwegian and wants her children to be born among the fjords. Some are like Sheldon Horowitz, Rhea’s grandfather, who has recently moved to live with his only close relative now that his wife has died. If Derek B Miller is to be trusted, though, there are not many like the Horowitzes; there are more like the displaced Serb mother and her son, who live in the downstairs apartment.  There are more still, though, like Enver Barisha, who is a killer. He has a gang, all waiting until they return to Kosovo, annoyed at the difficulty in obtaining the assault weapons they would dearly love to use, passing the time in other criminality

Sheldon Horowitz, US marine from the Korean War who made his living as a watch-mender, is troubled by the friends he lost and the son who died in Vietnam, and now seems confused, but he will be the hero of Norwegian By Night — the man who is prepared to protect the Serb boy victim, though they have no language in common; who plans ahead, realising the threat they are under, and who finds a different way to hide himself  (sometimes in plain sight, sometimes in camouflage) as he moves to his end.

Miller’s tale swaps point of view – sometimes with Barisha, sometimes with Rhea and Lars, sometimes with the police detectives, but mostly inside Sheldon’s head as he talks to his old, dead friends, taking us back to the beaches on Inchon or his workshop in New York (Charles Todd’s Inspector Rutledge mysteries use a similar theme, though Rutledge is more disabled by his conversations), even while he makes his way past those historic cannon on the fjord in a stolen boat or across country on a tractor, again stolen. Interestingly, Horowitz has a purpose in his journey, he is not running away, and his purpose lies in the Norwegian gun laws. That legal constraint, though, will change the final showdown with Kosovans, where, to quote W B Yeats, “everything is changed, changed utterly, a terrible beauty is born”.

If I were to write the screenplay of Norwegian By Night I am afraid that I would downplay Sheldon’s interior dialogues and emphasise the action, though I know other early readers of this, Miller’s first novel, would regard that as a sacrilege. For not only do we learn a lot about the last sixty years of US history, without his personal history Sheldon would not be able to protect the innocent and do the right things he does: Sheldon Horowitz represents what should be preserved, Enver Barisha what our age actually produces. A terrible beauty, indeed.

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