A gripping and timely novel that follows Sigrid—the dry-witted detective from Derek B. Miller's best-selling debut Norwegian by Night—from Oslo to the United States on a quest to find her missing brother
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 is “a superb novel on all levels” (Times, UK).
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About the Author
DEREK B. MILLER has worked on international peace and security for think tanks, diplomatic missions, and the United Nations. His first novel, Norwegian by Night, was an Indies Choice Honor Book, an Economist best book of 2013, and a winner of the Crime Writers' Association's John Creasey Dagger Award. His second novel, The Girl in Green, was published in 2017. Born and raised in Boston, Miller has lived abroad for more than fifteen years, in Norway, Switzerland, Britain, Israel, and Hungary. He now lives in Oslo, Norway, with his wife and two children.
Read an Excerpt
Sigrid Ødegård’s hands rest on the unopened blue folder as she stares out the window of her office. The seal of the Politi is embossed on the front in gold, red and black, meaning that someone decided to break out the good stationery for this one. It displays no author or title but she knows what it contains and she is in no rush to read it. Only two short months ago, in June, the entire city of Oslo, Norway, was trimmed with lilacs. Sigrid’s father had once told her that the early summer flowers were her mother’s favorite, and when the season was at its peak in Hedmark, their farmhouse was filled with them: a bouquet in each bathroom, a vase on the kitchen table. Their errant petals, he said, would drift through the house after her family as they journeyed its hallways stirring them up and scattering them in their wake. This collective movement — this collective memory — however, was thirty-five years ago. Sigrid was five years old when Astrid died. Sigrid wonders, looking out over the park with its August sunbathers and running children, whether those memories are even hers. They might have been given to her by her father. And if the memories are not hers, are they less precious or, perhaps, more?
She turns her attention from the window to the blue folder.
This, she’s been informed, is the final report and verdict about the events last month that resulted in the shooting-deaths of four hostage-takers at a summer cabin near the Swedish border in the village of Glåmlia. She was the commanding officer and had made the decision to utilize the emergency response force — the Beredskapstroppen. Their assault killed three of the perpetrators. Sigrid, herself, killed the fourth.
Conscious of being watched through the glass by the prying eyes of her department, Sigrid flips open the cover but doesn’t read the words. She should have closed the blinds after she’d received the folder from the young cop who’d knocked on her door to deliver it. He was blond and looked worryingly pale despite it being late summer. She’d found his boyish face immediately annoying.
“Thanks,” she’d said, and started to close the office door.
“You’re welcome,” he’d said and then — oddly — extended his hand.
She couldn’t think of a reason why he’d do this but she shook it to make it go away.
He seemed pleased with this and walked off.
During the past month the internal affairs department has been studying the events leading to the shootings in accordance with standard procedure. The report was standard procedure, though, only in the sense of being formalized; it was hardly common. The last time a Norwegian cop had fatally shot anyone was two years ago, in 2006, and before that it had been . . . forever. A decade? It simply didn’t happen in Norway. Violent crime was very low, murder rarely happened, and when it did it was usually between people who knew each other, and most often between lovers. The man was always to blame.
Their training, at the academy, had been focused on how to deescalate a situation and gain a measure of control over it rather than rush in and encounter it. This is not what happened last month.
It was still the right call, she thought; they had taken a man, woman and child hostage. Under her fingertips, though, was the institutional wisdom of her department on the same topic. It may, or may not, be the same as her own.
They had chosen to deliver the file to her today, on Friday. Without reading it she’d never know whether the decision was sadistic or gracious.
The summer house where the shootings took place was deep in the woods behind a small field. It was a little larger than a standard hytte. It was a place intended for serenity. A hunting lodge. An escape for lovers. A moment after she had sprung from the police car with her colleague Petter, a young man emerged from the cabin — a man she had never seen before — and he ran in her direction.
To her? Toward her? At her? He was in motion, that was all she understood. His motive was opaque. Her fear and his direction, however, were not.
As she watched him she’d half expected him to stop. People usually change their behavior when seeing a police officer. They drive more slowly. They become more aware of their actions. They drop the weapon. They raise their arms.
He kept running. She called for him to halt. He kept running.
She saw the carving knife in his hand immediately. It seemed less dangerous than it did incongruous. There they were, in that beautiful season when the natural world was at its most expansive; the moment Norwegians wait for and dream about all through the dark year so that its arrival is both blessed and wistful for being so short. And there he was, silently running toward her with a knife designed to slice meat.
If she’d delayed he’d have been on top of her. So she shot him. And then she shot him again.
“Screw it,” she mutters in her native language and starts reading the file.
His name was Burim and was from Kosovo, apparently. His family fled to Norway as refugees from the war in the 1990s. His father had died of health complications after being freed from a Serbian internment camp. The report attributes the death to malnutrition and damage to internal organs likely caused by beatings at the camp. Young Burim, fatherless, had fallen into the wrong crowd in Oslo as he failed to assimilate into Norwegian culture. His immigrant experience and his behavioral patterns in Norway — concluded a forensic psychologist — suggested immaturity rather than malice or ambition. That was who she had killed.
However, the report continued to explain that the legal findings about her own guilt or innocence in the matter were based on a study of the facts of the case, and the circumstances of the encounter between the assailant (him) and the officer on the scene (her). She reads about the events that were in part described through Petter’s own testimony as he had eyewitnessed the shooting from his side of the patrol car.
The report contains a narrative account of the shooting. To Sigrid it reads like historical fiction. It is a story about a woman with her own name but this fictional character is clearly not Sigrid herself because the author of this story wasn’t at the cabin when all this happened. There was no video and other than Petter no witnesses. How could anyone possibly know what she’d really been doing let alone thinking?
Sigrid flips to the next page and reads on.
On what basis does this bureaucratic reenactment draw its claims and attributions of cause and effect? Who is this writer who drew conclusions what happened at the moment Sigrid pulled the trigger on her weapon? And who is this forty-year-old Norwegian police officer named “Sigrid Ødegård” who shot the man and instead of rushing over to care for his wounds, ran instead to the eighty-two-year-old American man who had tumbled out of the cabin, his neck slashed with a knife?
The report does not mention the gentle and soft hand of the old man reaching up to touch her face, leaving his own fingerprints in blood on her cheek. It does not mention how she did not see those fingerprints until later that night when she returned to her own apartment in Grønland, alone, and looked in the mirror. Why was that not in the report if this writer knew her so well?
By page twelve it is clear that both Sigrid and her literary doppelgänger have both been exonerated.
Sigrid raises her eyes to see whether any of the junior staff are watching her with the file.
As none of them are looking at her it is clear that, moments earlier, all of them were.
She returns to the report, increasingly attentive to its fictions and assumptions; false premises and confident rhetoric.
And the more she reads past its bureaucratic surface and its misplaced certainty, the more Sigrid can sense a higher firmament of truth.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Liked th e writing. I think that by focussing on a small sheriff department in an urban area it distorts the US law enforcement system. The racial tensions the story is based on is pretty much dead on. He wrote this in 2008 if had been written today it would be the same or worse. Hard to relate to Marcus. An American would not understand him or his American girlfrind.
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 t
The Kirkus review describes this book well.I really liked all of the main characters. How he presents them allowed me to empathize with their actions and situations. I was really impressed with the gentle, minimalist way that Irv and Siegrid's intimated romantic interlude still had a few sparks.Who knew that a man could delicately hint at sex!(Just kidding!)I plan on reading his other books.
Loved the psychology behind the book
punfest, snark-fest, mystery, murder-investigation, twisty ----- *She is foreign, he can't place the accent though. The three most common foreign accents up here in upstate New York are French Canadian, Mexican, and Brooklyn, and she doesn't sound like any of the three. * That should give a clue about the humor! The mystery itself is quite well done, the suspense is fueled by red herrings, and plot twists, and each of the characters certainly are. The publisher's blurb gives hints and there is no need for spoilers, but the humor and godawful puns will keep you chortling long after the read is finished! I received a free copy in a Goodreads Giveaway. PS. We are Norsk.