We’re not short of novels examining the troubled landscape of the Middle East and the West’s foreign policy, and if I’m totally honest, I had little interest in reading another. But having heard such good things about Derek B. Miller’s previous novel, Norwegian by Night, and then Jon Page’s thoughts on The Girl in Green – which is the July Book of the Month at Pages & Pages Booksellers – I grabbed a copy and decided I’d give it 10 pages to persuade me. And boy, did those early pages persuade me. So much so, in fact, that I raced through the first couple hundred pages in record speed, and having now finished the novel, I’m ready to hold it up as one of the finest literary thrillers of the year. Derek B. Miller is now firmly in my Must-Read category of authors.
The Girl in Green opens in 1991, at the end of the Gulf War. US army soldier Arwood Hobbes – a greenhorn – is stationed at Checkpoint Zulu, more than two hundred kilometres from the Kuwait border. There he meets British journalist Thomas Benton, who is determined to garner insight into the local population. But before he is given the chance, Saddam Hussein’s forces decimate a Shia village, massacring countless innocents. And in a defining moment of their lives, they witness the brutal execution of a young girl wearing a green dress.
Smash cut to two decades later, and Arwood contacts Benton. Video footage of a mortar attack in Kurdistan clearly shows a girl in a green dress in the midst of the carnage, and Arwood is convinced – despite the obvious impossibility of the scenario – that it’s the same girl. And so the men return to the region to face the moment that has so impacted their lives, and perhaps find the salvation they crave.
Miller doesn’t shy away from the vast complexities of the Middle East, but nor is his exploration of the region impenetrable or didactic. The Girl in Green is, first and foremost, about characters and the impact their experiences in Iraq have had on them. The spotlight is shared primarily between three protagonists – Arwood and Benton, of course, and relief worker Marta Strom – and all are scarred, and emboldened, by what’s occurred in the intervening decades. They are the same, but very different, and their transformations feel true-to-life rather than manufactured for the novel’s plot.
While it’s certainly a character study, The Girl in Green possesses the trappings of a breakneck thriller to ensure it’ll appeal to the mainstream crowd. The stakes are high, with Arwood and Benton’s lives on the line, and the clock ticking until their execution. The novel is short on gunfire and explosions – action purists might want to look elsewhere – but the tension is ramped up to the nth degree, and readers ready for an intelligent page-turner will surely be sated, and delighted. With The Girl in Green, Derek B. Miller proves to be master of the craft. And while I’m thrilled I now have the pleasure of reading his first novel, Norwegian by Night, I do hope we’re not waiting years before his next. But heck, if that’s the case, I’m sure it’ll be worth it.
Format: Paperback (234mm x 153mm x 29mm)
Imprint: Scribe Publications
Publisher: Scribe Publications
Publish Date: 27-Jun-2016
Country of Publication: Australi