In Praise of an Unlikely Hero

by MHKLibrary Staff

In Praise of an Unlikely Hero

By Marcia Allen, Technical Services and Collections Manager

Of all the fictional heroes one could imagine, Sheldon Horowitz is one of the more unusual.  His wife is deceased and his days of repairing watches in New York are long over.  Now over 80, Sheldon is forced to live with his granddaughter and her husband in a Norwegian town, and he seems to exhibit signs of dementia.  After all, he converses with an old friend who has been dead for many years.  Sheldon refuses to go on outings and complains about the local culture and mindset.

And yet, there is much more to this character.  Flashbacks reveal his activities during World War II.  He doesn’t speak of those experiences, yet there are clear indications that he was specially trained as a sniper and earned a prestigious award for having saved a great many lives.  He also suffers from guilt.  He had shared his wartime recollections with his only son who went off to his own war in Vietnam and became a casualty.

That’s the set-up for Derek B. Miller’s masterful Norwegian by Night, a mystery that garnered the CWA John Creasey Dagger Award, as well as high praise from The Economist and Kirkus Reviews. The story opens when Sheldon’s mundane life takes an unpredictable turn.

At home one day in the apartment he shares with his family, he hears the ugly sounds of an argument.  A neighbor and her young son are being berated by the boy’s father, a Kosovan war criminal.  When the disturbance becomes physical, Sheldon pulls the boy into the apartment and flees with the child out the back door.  Meanwhile, the mother is brutally killed.

Here’s where the story gets really interesting.  Sheldon and the child, who is obviously used to mistreatment, do not speak the same language.  Our hero realizes he must make the child more comfortable, as well as keep him safe from the dangerous criminal, and so he turns the flight into a Viking adventure by fashioning a costume for the boy from supplies he steals from an unoccupied cabin.

Sheldon’s behavior also negates the suspected dementia.  He realizes he must take the boy to a safer place, and he plans to travel to his granddaughter’s summer cabin where he’s heard there are hunting weapons.  Our wily hero must outwit the thugs who want the boy, and he must make some fairly elaborate travel plans to reach the cabin.

Do the two reach the cabin?  You’ll have the read this engrossing book to find out, but I promise the story is well worth the time investment.  Sheldon’s determination to protect the boy and to calm the little guy’s fears make him truly admirable.  And these odd partners in flight make compelling heroes, as they try to outmaneuver some really nasty characters.  Sheldon’s granddaughter is also compelling: while she believes her grandfather has some dementia, she truly wants him to be happy in his new home.

And the good news?  If you like this book, you will be elated to learn the award-winning author has a new title.  American by Day involves Chief Inspector Sigrid Odegard who investigated the death of the woman in Sheldon’s apartment.  Instead of enjoying some well-earned time off (and recovering from a serious concussion), she is ordered by her father to go to America and search for her missing brother.  Like Sheldon of the first novel, she is about to experience some serious culture shock when she leaves to comfort of her Norwegian home to work in America.  And she has a delightfully dry sense of humor.

I highly recommend both books, and I sincerely hope that Derek B. Miller continues to provide us all with his well-plotted mysteries.