5 stars American By Day is the second novel by award winning American-born author Derek B. Miller which features Chief Inspector Sigrid Ødegård of the Oslo Politi. Sigrid first appears in Miller’s debut novel, Norwegian By Night (another excellent read!). Readers with any intention of reading Norwegian By Night are strongly advised to do so before reading this one as there are significant spoilers for NbN in American By Day. Paternal pressures and concerns see Sigrid Ødegård travelling to upstate New York to make contact with her suddenly-incommunicative older brother, Marcus. She discovers that Sheriff Irving Wylie is looking for him too, wanting to question Marcus about the death of his (black) lover, Professor Lydia Jones.
There on the scene, Sigrid also learns that Lydia’s young nephew was, weeks earlier, shot and killed by a police officer in what could have been a racially motivated attack. All this against a backdrop of the country gearing up for an election that may deliver America’s first black President.
How then - with a black community demanding justice for their dead, a pacifist sheriff (with a divinity degree, no less) under pressure from the county commissioner, a SWAT team, a gang of white supremacist bikers, a trigger happy SERT squad leader, a couple of Molotov cocktails and a Norwegian police chief who is certain her brother is innocent - how will this not end up in a bloodbath?
Readers looking for an action-packed crime thriller are in the wrong place. Miller gives the reader a piece of literary crime that is punctuated by thought-provoking discussions between the characters as they wait. And that’s realistic, even if that’s the bit, all the waiting between dramatic events, that the thrillers omit. That said, there are definitely exciting bits.
Miller’s characters are mostly appealing, for all their flaws, and even the ones who are there to be despised are not complete stereotypes. It’s difficult not to care about what happens to these people, and Irving is likely to be a favourite. He continues to surprise throughout the story, and his speech to the black congregation is wonderful.
Miller gives his characters opinions on a myriad of issues, both topical and perennial: politicians and election campaigns; guns and gun crime; institutionalised racism; the pressure to be seen to be taking action; sadness and depression; individualism vs cooperation; fatal police shootings. The debate is usually balanced, always intelligent, and yes, sometimes the characters get a bit preachy, as people do on any controversial issue about which they are passionate.
As with Norwegian By Night, this novel features a protagonist who is a stranger in a strange land. Sheldon could speak no Norwegian. Sigrid speaks good English, but that doesn’t necessarily mean she fully understands all that is being said, or can always make her own meaning clear. And America, she has decided, is definitely a weird place. Her observations about America are insightful and often amusing.
The characters’ dialogue and their inner monologues are consistent sources of humour. It is sometimes subtle, often dry, occasionally tongue-in-cheek and at times, very dark, but Miller gives the reader plenty of laugh out loud moments. He also treats the reader to some marvellous descriptive prose: “She fires up the bus, which rumbles to life with the enthusiasm of an old man passing gas. The hydraulic doors seem to suck the passengers inside; like a giant vacuum it clears the platform and removes all traces of humanity except the lingering smell.”
Rather than being numbered, the chapters are meaningfully titled from the text. Enclosed within an evocative Hopper Nighthawks-esque cover, this funny, moving and thought-provoking novel is a brilliant sequel to Norwegian By Night. With thanks to Transworld Publishing and the author for this proof copy to read and review.