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American by Day

Review

American by Day

AMERICAN BY DAY is a nominal sequel to the brilliant NORWEGIAN BY NIGHT, which seemed to come out of nowhere. It was the story of a Jewish World War II veteran living in Norway, in the throes of the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, who takes it upon himself to rescue a young boy from a group of terrorists and does so more or less single-handedly, in spite of having both cops and crooks on his trail. It was suspenseful, literate to a fault, and at times shot through with high wit. It’s a book that should be read and re-read, though you don’t have to do so in order to appreciate AMERICAN BY DAY, which finds author Derek B. Miller taking one of the characters from NORWEGIAN BY NIGHT in another direction.

Unlike its worthy predecessor, Miller’s latest novel is not really a thriller. There’s a death that occurs before the book begins and propels the storyline throughout, and there’s a chain reaction of explosions at one point, but it’s pretty sedate as far as action is concerned. The story features the return of Chief Inspector Sigrid Ødegård, who, in 2008, is on leave following the events that concluded NORWEGIAN BY NIGHT. She is barely cleared of her involvement in that matter before she is summoned by her father, who tells her that her older brother, Marcus, who has been living in the United States, has gone missing in upstate New York. It develops that Marcus had been dating Dr. Lydia Jones, an African-American college academic who died under mysterious circumstances. Evidence, including what seems to be a spontaneous admission of guilt by Marcus, indicates that he was complicit in her death. That circumstance is reinforced by his sudden disappearance.

"I wanted more of everyone by book’s end, and maybe in a perfect world...we’ll get it. For now, though, we have this wonderful, well-written and unforgettable work, which is surely one of the best of this or any year."

Sigrid travels to the Adirondacks and meets with Irving Wylie, the local sheriff. Let the games begin. Irving is one of the most complex and entertaining characters you are likely to meet between the covers of a book. His job has as much to do with keeping the local politicos happy as it does with law enforcement, and is complicated by the recent and nearby police shooting of a black youth --- Dr. Jones’ nephew --- which was found justifiable by the local grand jury. Sigrid, in the manner of many Europeans, is more than happy to share her extensive knowledge and expertise of the United States gleaned from her experience of a day or two of visitation, a condition duly noted by Irving, who meets her paragraphs effectively with a sentence or two.

Part of Irving’s problem is that Marcus may not have killed Dr. Jones. Another is that there may not be a crime at all. The third is that there is a significant segment of the local population that wants Marcus tried for her death and convicted, whether he is guilty or not, and the fourth is that yet another demographic group doesn’t want him arrested at all. Don’t be too quick to decide who is who in all of that. Irving successfully navigates through the morass, even as he fends off the worst of Sigrid’s intellectual arguments, which on occasion proceed from a misinformed point and thus arrive at an unintended destination. Their discussions are informative in some places, misguided in others, but marvelously told in Miller’s third person omnipresent voice, which sometimes goes just a bit off track but is consistently literate and challenging, as only the best fiction is.

While Sigrid may not be Alexander de Tocqueville, her observations concerning many of the things we take for granted --- honor bars, all-night diners and their menus, and the inexpensive cost of adult beverages as compared to Norway, to name just a few --- are well-told and humorous in the way of the supermarket vignette in Moscow on the Hudson or even Coming to America. The evolution of the relationship between Sigrid and Irving is beautifully told. The reader kind of knows where things are going before the principals do, but it’s still fun to see how they get there and if they do.

I wanted more of everyone by book’s end, and maybe in a perfect world (which we don’t have), we’ll get it. For now, though, we have this wonderful, well-written and unforgettable work, which is surely one of the best of this or any year.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on May 4, 2018

American by Day
by Derek B. Miller

  • Publication Date: April 3, 2018
  • Genres: Fiction, Suspense, Thriller
  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • ISBN-10: 1328876659
  • ISBN-13: 9781328876652