American by Day

We called Derek B. Miller's first novel, Norwegian by Night, "moving yet never sentimental, intricate yet effortless." His second novel, The Girl in Green, "crackles with heart, charm and dark honesty." In his third, American by Day, Miller revisits a character from Norwegian, Sigrid Ødegård, with his now-expected originality and humanity.

Sigrid, an Oslo chief police inspector, travels to upstate New York to search for her brother, Marcus. He disappeared after the death of his lover a few weeks earlier; she had fallen--or was pushed--from a building soon after her young nephew had been killed by police. Further distress: she and the boy are black.

Also looking for Marcus is Sheriff Irv Wylie. He's not the simple foil for Norwegian pragmatism one would expect. He has a divinity degree, and uses it: "Corinthians Thirteen. Who knew it was actually a foundation for a solid investigative strategy in a murder case." Sigrid, for her part, is impatient with pointless American banter. Miller excels at banter, while limning characters and scenes precisely: a hotel clerk "clacked away at the keys with the lightness of Art Tatum"; a bedroom is "furnished in earth tones and shadows."

American by Day is a wise story wrapped in a mystery format, with dry wit ("So I'm feeling pretty good about things, but I'm always open to scrutiny and abuse") and a nuanced look at cultural differences. Miller dissects race, depression, politics and guns with a relevant, discerning eye. This is a novel to savor for its compassion, heart and imagination. --Marilyn Dahl

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