American by Day, Norwegian by Night
Miller’s linked mysteries compare and contrast Norway and America from both sides
Christine Foster Meloni
Novelist Derek Miller has written two riveting novels that reflect his deep understanding of the Norwegian and American cultures. He frequently uses humor to highlight the cultural differences.
In Norwegian by Night, his protagonist is Sheldon Horowitz, an American who goes to Norway to live with his granddaughter and her Norwegian husband and finds himself involved in a murder.
In American by Day, his protagonist is Chief Inspector Sigrid Ødegȧrd of the Oslo Police, who goes to the United States to locate her missing brother and discovers that he is on the run for a murder he may or may not have committed.
Sigrid, who is introduced toward the end of the first book, is the loose link that joins the books, which can be read independently.
Norwegian by Night
Norwegian by Night begins with Sheldon leaving his life in America behind and moving to Oslo. Recently widowed, he finally gives in to his granddaughter Rhea’s insistence to join her and her husband, Lars. He is convinced that he will not fit in. He was a Marine sniper in the Korean War and then became a watch repairman. What would he do in Norway? How could he fit in? He is Jewish, and there are very few Jews in Norway.
But he becomes very involved in life in Norway shortly after his arrival there. One morning, he hears a male voice shouting in the apartment above his, where a woman lives with her son. He senses a dangerous situation and intervenes. He rescues the boy and hides him in his apartment. Someone in the building alerts the police and, when they arrive, they find the woman murdered. When Sheldon is questioned along with the other residents, he says nothing about the boy.
Much to his surprise, Sheldon finds that his military background will indeed be useful as he soon becomes the target of the killer and his pals who desperately want to find the boy. He needs to focus on getting away from them but, at the same time, he must find a way to apprehend them and bring them to justice.
The author vividly describes Sheldon’s madcap adventures, which bring at times chills and at other times laughs to the reader. It is a fast-paced, exciting read. In the end, Sheldon surrounds the criminals in their hideaway and shouts, “I am General Henrik Horowitz Ibsen, and you are surrounded!”
American by Day
In the second book, Sheldon is mentioned a few times in passing, but the protagonist is Sigrid Ødegård who is now in the United States. Her brother, Marcus, has been living in upstate New York for many years when he suddenly disappears. Her father insists that she go immediately to see what has happened to him. Upon arrival she learns of the death of Lydia Jones, the African-American professor Marcus was in love with, and that he is considered the primary suspect in her murder. She immediately dismisses this conclusion as impossible.
Sigrid reports to the local police station where she meets the sheriff, Irving Wylie (who wears cowboy boots), and gathers the basic information on the case. She then intends to work on her own, using Norwegian police methods, which differ considerably from American ones.
Irving finds this preposterous.
“So consider this,” Irv says, leaning forward again and resting his arms on his knees, “just in case you decide to get clever and try to find him on your own, I’ve got local police, state police, and FBI if I need it. I was born and raised here and I know this land and these people. You’re a foreigner. You don’t know anyone and you’re traveling alone. There is no way that one foreigner in an unfamiliar land can outfox the local police.”
“I’ve seen it done,” says Sigrid. And she adds, “Recently.”
Irving doesn’t realize how much Sigrid knows about police work in the United States. Dr. Williamson, a professor at Marcus’ university, asks her:
“Did you know that in the U.S. we don’t even have a database on fatal police shootings?”
“Yes, I did know that,” Sigrid says.
“I’m a police chief in Norway. There’s a lot of talk about America near the coffee maker.”
“So we’re global news, huh?”
“It’s hard to ignore the moose sitting on your waffle.”
“That might not translate.”
Irving and Sigrid soon realize that it would be better for them to work together if the case is going to be solved. Contrasting these two characters provides the reader with intriguing insights into the two societies.
Although both books are definitely mysteries, Miller does not consider himself a crime writer. Trained as an academic, he studied the interdisciplinary field of international relations and, throughout his career, has primarily focused on analyzing the cultural aspects of countries. American by Day is definitely a cross-cultural story.
According to the author, “It was only when I thought of bringing Sigrid to America, and confronting the experience of policing over there—and how it related, but also dramatically contrasted to her own experience in Norway—that I found the story.”
While the book is often humorous, especially in its references to cross-cultural differences and misunderstandings, it presents many serious issues in American society such as justice, police brutality, and race relations.
Christine Foster Meloni is professor emerita at The George Washington University. She has degrees in Italian literature, linguistics, and international education. She was born in Minneapolis and currently lives in Washington, D.C. She values her Norwegian heritage.
This article originally appeared in the July 27, 2018, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.