About Me

My photo
Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada
I am a lawyer in Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada who enjoys reading, especially mysteries. Since 2000 I have been writing personal book reviews. This blog includes my reviews, information on and interviews with authors and descriptions of mystery bookstores I have visited. I strive to review all Saskatchewan mysteries. Other Canadian mysteries are listed under the Rest of Canada. As a lawyer I am always interested in legal mysteries. I have a separate page for legal mysteries. Occasionally my reviews of legal mysteries comment on the legal reality of the mystery. You can follow the progression of my favourite authors with up to 15 reviews. Each year I select my favourites in "Bill's Best of ----". As well as current reviews I am posting reviews from 2000 to 2011. Below my most recent couple of posts are the posts of Saskatchewan mysteries I have reviewed alphabetically by author. If you only want a sentence or two description of the book and my recommendation when deciding whether to read the book look at the bold portion of the review. If you would like to email me the link to my email is on the profile page.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Jewish Sleuths and a Jewish Hero

As I read Norwegian by Night by Derek B. Miller I realized that I was reading the third book in a row that featured a Jewish primary character. In Lineup by Liad Shoham it had been Detective Eli Nachum. In The Missing File by D.A. Mishani it was Detective Avraham Avraham.

Nachum and Avraham were detectives living and working in and around Tel Aviv, Israel. Sheldon Horowitz lived his adult life in New York City until his granddaughter, Rhea, and her husband, Lars, persuaded him to move to Norway.

Somewhat to my surprise it was Horowitz, the non-Israeli, whose Jewish faith and heritage played a significant role in the book.

He has been driven to fight for justice since he learned of the Holocaust. Too young to fight the Nazis he fought in the Korean War.

Horowitz knows the Bible, Old and New Testaments. He invokes Saul, the persecutor of early Christians who converted and became St. Paul. He reflects on God’s actions and powers in the Old Testament. His God is real and part of his life.

For Nachum and especially Avraham there is no role in the book for their Jewish life. Being Jewish does not guide or overtly influence their lives.

Both Nachum and Avrahm appear to be secular, non-religious Jews, as I do not recall any parts of the book showing either is religious.

To the contrary Avraham, on Shabbat, goes to the office when he does not need to be there. It is a very quiet day with few other officers present and even fewer calls.

One of the few signs of Jewish life for Nachum and Avraham is that their day of rest is Saturday rather than Sunday.

Every author must decide which aspects of personality to focus on in their books. Shoham and Mishani concentrated on Nachm and Avraham being solid hard working police officers. I do not think you would have known they were Jewish but for their names and being Israeli. The importance of being Jewish made Horowitz a far more interesting character to me than either Nachum or Avraham.

Every action taken by Horowitz is affected by being Jewish. He cannot abandon the child whose mother is murdered in his aparement. From his tangled mind he calls the child Paul in memory of his son, Saul, and the Christian St. Paul.

Being Jewish compounds Horowitz’s isolation in Norwegian by Night. With but 1,300 Jewish people in Norway he is a member of one of the country’s smallest minorities. Yet Horowitz will not forget that Norway allowed the Nazis to take 772 Jews to concentration camps with but 34 surviving the war.

Horowitz may have lost faith in God but he is still fiercely Jewish.


  1. I like the way you're looking at these features, and comparing and contrasting the books as you go along. Are there more Jewish or Israeli books in the pipeline....?

    1. Moira; Thanks for the comment. I do not think there are any more Jewish or Israeli books on the TBR piles. I cannot say the trio was really planned as a grouping.

  2. Bill - You make some very interesting points here. And we could ask the question in a more general sense too: how does a sleuth's religion affect her or his character. There are obvious examples, such as G.K. Chesterton's Fr. Brown, and Harry Kemelman's Rabbi David Small. But there are other, less obvious examples and it's a fascinating question. Thanks for the 'food for thought.'

    1. Margot: Thanks for the comment. I loved the Rabbi David Small series. I learned so much about the practise of the Jewish faith from the books. The Rabbi, beyond being a talented sleuth, was a man of great integrity.

  3. Nice article, Bill. I also enjoyed the Rabbi Small series, for similar reasons, and have thought about re-reading it.

    1. TracyK: Thanks for the comment. Maybe we will be able to each post reviews of some Rabbi Small books.

  4. Interesting observation about Horowitz being Jewish and yet secular. That isn't a contradiction.

    My grandmother and her siblings, and my grandfather fled anti-Semitic pogroms in 1907 in czarist-occupied Poland. They were all secular, yet all spoke Yiddish and promoted Jewish culture. My grandmother raised money for Yiddish newspapers and theatre.

    I grew up hearing Yiddish, as it was the first language of my grandparents and my mother spoke it and scolded us in Yiddish. We had secular seders, stayed home from school on Jewish holidays, and sadly knew about the Holocaust at young ages.

    There is a lot more to my grandparents' story and to that of secular Jewish families.

    My mother, who passed away at 95 in 2012 is at peace in a Jewish cemetery near to her sister, which was their wish.

    I liked Sheldon Horowitz a great deal. He (and his humor) reminded me of my grandmother's family very much. And no matter what anyone says, Jewish humor is like no other -- tragicomedy with a large dollop of self-deprecation.

    1. Kathy D.: Thanks for a comment that adds greatly to my post. The small community in which I grew up in Saskatchewan had no Jewish families. There were two families in the nearby town of Kinistino. The Margolis family had a grocery store and the Fields family a general store. When I was growing up in rural Saskatchewan many communities had Jewish merchants. Few of their children have stayed in rural Saskatchewan.

  5. Thank you, Bill for your reply.

    My grandmother's family was like no other -- a group of characters, I must say. But I would not have traded them for anyone else.

    Nearly all of them worked for social change here in the U.S. in one way or another. My grandmother was a union organizer in the garment industry in the early 1900s. She is the one whom other workers would turn to with their grievances. Fortunately, for her and the existence of my family, she worked at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, but was absent on the day of the horrific fire on March 25, 1911, which took the lives of 146 people, many very young immigrant Jewish and Italian women. She lost many friends But she went on to push for safer factories and workers' rights.

    My Aunt Dora helped to fund raise for the farmworkers' union in California for years.

    I think my grandmother would have liked Sheldon Horowitz.

    I laughed so hard I cried at the humorous parts of Norwegian by Night, and I cried about his son, his spouse, the wars, etc.

    1. Kathy D.: Thanks for the comment. It is inspiring to read of the strong stalwart women of generation after generation in your family. They helped make America a better country.

      Sheldon Horowitz is an amazing blend of humour and sorrow.