American By Day by Derek B. Miller
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.
And not someplace interesting, either: upstate New York.
It is election season, 2008, and Sigrid is plunged into a United States where race and identity, politics and promise, reverberate in every aspect of daily life.
To find her older brother, she needs the help of the local police who appear to have already made up their minds about the case. Working with – or, if necessary, against — someone actually named Sheriff Irving ‘Irv’ Wylie, she must negotiate the local political minefields and navigate the back woods of the Adirondacks to uncover the truth before events escalate further.
This novel is an impressive blend of Nordic Noir and American Noir. It’s not a justice story but a story of a broken justice system.
Police Chief Inspector Sigrid Odegard of Oslo, Norway has only recently been exonerated in a tough case where deadly force was used. When she is summoned to her father’s residence. Her father, Morten is 69yrs old and lonely. He is estranged from his son; Marcus and we learn that this is surrounding past issues when their mother Astrid died. Marcus has never truly gotten over the death of his mother, he has blamed his father and fled to the US. Marcus seeks a better life, a fresh start, but will he find it?
Over the course of the conversation between Sigrid and Morten, we learn that father and son had been in contact via letter recently. That the written communication began seven months ago and ended abruptly a week ago. Morten is concerned and urges Sigrid to investigate. When I say ‘urges’, I mean he already has her flight booked.
On the journey we learn that Marcus had acquired a position at a university and had recently found love. Sigrid is an unusual character she applies rational thought and almost immediately begins compiling the ‘data’ she has surrounded her own brother. She is apprehensive about entering the USA, regarding it as a weird place.
The contrast between the society and way of life in Norway and America is intriguing throughout the novel.
When Sigrid arrives at Marcus’s apartment she is greeted by a hooker named Juliet. She tells Sigrid that not only is Marcus missing but that local Sheriff Irving Wylie has been asking questions regarding the death of Marcus’s girlfriend Lydia.
Did Marcus commit murder?
What kind of mess has Sigrid walked into?
Can she find Marcus before the police?
Alone and in a foreign country, Sigrid know she has to confront the situation with the Sheriff head on. But what she uncovers just leads to more mystery and suspicion. Sigrid often clashes with Irv about police tactics and attitudes. Especially when the case leads to the past police shooting of an unarmed African American boy named Jeffrey, who was just 12 years old.
‘In Jefferson County alone there had been almost two dozen police shootings that had left someone dead. Eighty percent of those dead were black despite fewer than ten percent of the population being black. Everyone knew something was off, but event by event, every shooting sounded right and reasonable. But how could that be?’
When Sigrid gains access to Marcus’s computer files, she learns this case is so much deeper than she originally believed. The novel deals with the issue of institutionalised racism within the police force and the aftermath of trauma for the community of the murdered victim. When I read the scene of Jeffrey’s death, I became as angry as Sigrid, at the injustice of it all.
But can Sigrid take on the American justice system and find her brother?
The novel is set in the 2008 election season and the potential of Obama as president plays out in the background. It is impossible to ignore the political, social and race themes within the novel. This is a detailed crime fiction novel, that I can see being very popular amongst readers of the genre. 4*
Derek B. Miller