Showing posts with label USA. Show all posts
Showing posts with label USA. Show all posts

09 August 2019

Uses of Mystery, Part 2

by Janice Law

I have recently become interested in how certain writers use the conventions of mysteries and thrillers to explore topics. Jim Gauer’s Novel Explosives was a madly ambitious literary example. Derek B. Miller’s Norwegian by Night and American by Day are both firmly within the mystery genre but both use a crime, pursuit, detection, and chase to explore a variety of difficult topics, including racism and violence in American by Day, and anti-Semitism, post traumatic stress, immigration and parental guilt in Norwegian by Night.

Derek B. Miller
Both are distinguished by perceptive reflections on cultural assumptions and religious beliefs, some of which is funny. They have complex characters and in Sheldon “Donny” Horowitz, the main character in Norwegian by Night, one of the most completely drawn mystery protagonists in a long time.

A widowed, retired watch repairer, an ex-Marine Ranger and sharpshooter, Donny is intensely patriotic, pugnacious, cranky, and opinionated. His late wife thought he was showing signs of dementia; his beloved grand daughter has similar suspicions, and to be fair, he does conduct conversations with his dead friend Bill Harmon as well as experience intense serial trips with his dead son, Saul, along his fatal journey on the Mekong River.

Nonetheless, Donny is  as close to a believable eighty-one year old action hero as you are likely to get. When one of his grand daughter’s neighbors is murdered in their Oslo apartment, he finds himself on the run from ex-Kosovar militia with a traumatized little boy. Donny doesn’t speak Norwegian; he doesn’t have access to a car or a weapon; he can’t risk public transport, and he feels every day of his age. He’s impossible not to root for.

Donny Horowitz’s ingenuity is matched by Sigrid Ødegård in American by Day. Sigrid, the Police Chief Inspector in Norwegian by Night, has like Donny, her own regrets and bad memories. Although a more subdued character – Miller’s women, though well-drawn are not as impressive as his men – Sigrid proves equally ingenious off her own patch. Searching for her missing brother Marcus in upstate New York State, she navigates an unfamiliar geographic and cultural landscape with considerable aplomb.

Through her eyes, Miller gives a foreigner’s view of our tangled mess of race, sex and violence, much as he used Donny Horowitz to critique aspects of Norway. Well aware of our record of gun violence, Sigrid struggles to find her shy, almost reclusive brother before the authorities and also to understand how he became a suspect in the death of his African American lover, a woman herself traumatized in the wake of a police shooting.

The psychological climate of the book is necessarily somber but occasionally relieved by feisty bit characters like the savvy prostitute who has inherited tenancy in Marcus’s apartment and especially by Irving Wylie, the decent and philosophical local sheriff who may prove susceptible to Sigrid’s off beat charms.

Together, the paired novels are thoughtful, ambitious, and entertaining. If the body count in Norwegian by Night is maybe more than is needful and if American by Day is occasionally talky, they are both superior specimens of the genre, with all the action, smart dialogue and ingenuity that characterize good mysteries.

13 August 2012

Olympics Withdrawal

Olympics Withdrawal
by Jan Grape



As I write this I am recording the closing ceremonies of the 2012 Summer Olympics from London. Nooooo, I'm not ready for it to be over. What will I do every day now? What to do every evening. No swimming, no gymnastics, no track and field, no beach volleyball. It's not fair. I'm not ready.

Just when NBC gets us all revved up and excited and hooked then they take it away. Dang, all I can see that I can do is read. But I'm out of books to be read. I could play Words with Friends on my telephone, but I seem to get beat regularly by almost everyone. I could write, but dang, I've almost forgotten how to do that. I mean it took me two days to come up with this idea and I'm not sure it's exciting enough. How could they do this to me?

I've watched NBC every day, every night. Cheered for USA, USA, USA. And Go! Leo! Go! Okay, I can guess I'd better tell all y'all (that's the plural of y'all, right Deborah?) why I'm rooting for Leo. Leo Manzana is the young man from Marble Falls, TX who ran the 1500 meters in the 2008 Olympics and got caught behind some big guys and couldn't get out. Leo broke all the high school records and won a scholarship to University of Texas and then broke NCAA records. This year, 2012, he made the Olympics again. He made it to the final heat just by the skin of his teeth. And the final was run at 3:15 pm on Tuesday, August 7th. A local bar and grille in downtown Marble Falls held a "race watch party." Strangely enough I decided to go and watch. I just thought it would be more fun to watch with a group of local people. So I got ready and went. When I got inside R Bar & Grille, I spotted a friend, Ann who happened to have a table and an empty chair. I sat down. Someone had hooked up their computer to an NBC live feed to one of the TVs on the wall.

I ordered a big glass of iced tea and a snack and got ready to watch. The clock rolled around to 3:15, the runners took their places and the gun sounded to send them off. Leo took off and seemingly as usual got behind some of the big guys. Everyone was yelling, GO! LEO! GO! The bell rang for the final stretch to the finish line...Leo had moved up a little and was in 10th place. Suddenly he was on the outside running his heart out. He passed everyone except the leader and he WON SILVER!! It was so exciting. And it absolutely was fun to watch with my friend Ann and a group of strangers. All of us were thrilled that our hometown hero had won a medal.

Leo is quoted in today's (Sunday) Austin newspaper: "My legs just felt like they were bricks, but something inside me said keep going, keep going, keep pushing, keep pushing."

One of my other friends, singer songwriter, john Arthur martinez, wrote a song several years ago for Leo. The song is titled, "Dare to Dream Out Loud." You see, Leo was born in Mexico. His parents moved to Texas when Leo was four. When he first came out for track in school he was running in a pair of old boots because he didn't know nor could he afford track shoes. But the coach could see Leo was fast and he had heart. And Leo had a dream. A dream to go to the Olympics. A dream to win a medal for the USA. And Leo Manzano didn't give up. His family didn't give up. They made a better life for their family. They became citizens of the USA because they dared to dream.

A dream is all many of us have. A dream to write. A dream to be published. A dream to succeed.
Dare to Dream. But remember as you dream you must also work towards that goal. I'm going to miss watching the summer Olympics. Every single athlete who made it there had a dream, but they also worked like crazy for four or eight or twelve years. For some their dream came true.

Leo's dream came true and so can yours.

Congratulations to Leo Manzano, winner of the Silver Medal in the 1500 meter run in the 2012 Olympics in London.