Publication: Doubleday on 19 April 2018
SHE KNEW IT WAS A WEIRD PLACE. She’d heard the stories, seen the movies, read the books. But now police Chief Inspector Sigrid Ødegård has to leave her native Norway and actually go there; to that land across the Atlantic where her missing brother is implicated in the mysterious death of a prominent African-American academic.
AMERICA. Sigrid is plunged into a United States where race and identity, politics and promise, reverberate in every aspect of daily life. Working with—or, if necessary, against—the police, she must negotiate the local political minefields and navigate the backwoods of the Adirondacks to uncover the truth before events escalate further.
Refreshingly funny, slyly perceptive, American by Day secures Derek B. Miller’s place as one of our most imaginative and entertaining novelists.
How do you find books? I chose this one because I saw a reference to it made by Thomas Enger, who says of Miller “Derek has one of the sharpest, funniest and most important pens out there.” So I could not resist. I had no idea what to expect, but I was genuinely delighted by what I got.
American by Day is at once witty, sharp and on point. It is also refreshing, lacks stereotypes and made me think a lot. Set in the midst of the 2008 Obama election, it is a thoughtful and provocative piece which both delights and captivates, whilst bringing home some serious thought provoking arguments.
Norwegian Chief Inspector Sigrid Ødegård is troubled. An internal inquiry into her shooting and killing a Kosovan has found that she acted at all times within the law and that she is exonerated from blame. Yet, that conclusion just troubles her more and she decides to accept her father’s invitation to come home to the family farm and spend time with him.
But when she gets there she finds that her brother Marcus has gone missing in upstate New York. Her father is worried for his safety and has already made arrangements for Sigrid to fly out and track him down.
Sigrid finally arrives in Watertown in the Adirondacks, where she checks in with the local Sherriff, Irving Wiley. It is the relationship between these two protagonists and their exchanges and banter that make for a terrifically good read. Sigrid finds much to bemuse her about this bit of America, though she is a fan of their throwaway pricing culture, particularly on the liquor front.
Irving Wiley, meanwhile, is no stereotypical hick Sherriff. He is well read, sharp and smart and the perfect foil for Sigrid. His deputy Melanie is also a very human character. The background to Marcus’ disappearance is that a black child has recently been shot and killed by a white policeman, and the shooting has been ruled clean. Tensions are high in the community and then Marcus’s girlfriend Lydia, the child’s aunt, is found dead at the base of a deserted construction site and Marcus has vanished.
Sigrid and Irv must pair up to find Marcus and bring him back to Watertown without harm. Their conversations and arguments make for brilliant reading. The two cultures, Norway and America are very different and Sigrid and Irv discuss the many ways in which they are different from gun ownership, portion control and politics. Their exchanges are sheer magic on the page.
Derek B Miller has pulled off a massive challenge. He has created a novel with warm, authentic characters that are at one and the same time both very funny and deadly serious.
Behind the story is a reflective look at love and loss and the ways in which we all interpret events according to our own outlook on life. There is lots of action, some real laugh out loud moments, yet what stands out is that this is a book that looks at what it is like to be a middle-American and why America stands where it does today. It does not flinch from looking at the divides between rich and poor, black and white, and from wide ranging philosophical discussions about gun control and other fundamental issues. And yet it does so with a light touch and a sharpness that is refreshing.
A book that can achieve all these things is a wonder, and Derek B Miller pulls it off with wit and finesse. I was thrilled by the action, captivated by the exchanges and drawn in by the arguments.
American By Day is a towering piece of work that goes straight onto the must read list of 2018.
About Derek B Miller
American writer, Derek B. Miller’s acclaimed and prize-winning debut novel Norwegian by Night was published in 2013, winning the CWA John Creasy Dagger that year. A native of New England, he is the director of The Policy Lab® and has worked in international affairs with the UN, Governments and think tanks for over twenty years. He studied at Georgetown, Oxford and Geneva and has a Ph.D. in international relations. Miller lives in Oslo with his wife and two children. The Girl in Green was his second novel (2016).