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Book Review: The Girl in Green by Derek B. Miller (3/5)

9 Apr

I added this to my list after thoroughly enjoying my first Miller book, Norwegian by Night but before enjoying my second, American by Day. I knew this one would be different but I don’t think I’d gathered how different. I’m not sure if that affected how much I enjoyed it but I think it was pretty significant, unfortunately.

Cover image via Goodreads

The Girl in Green by Derek B. Miller

Other books by Miller reviewed on this blog:

Norwegian by Night (Sigrid Ødegård #1) (and Book Club Reflection)
American by Day (Sigrid Ødegård #2)

Summary from Goodreads:

1991. Near Checkpoint Zulu, one hundred miles from the Kuwaiti border, Thomas Benton meets Arwood Hobbes. Benton is a British journalist who reports from war zones in part to avoid his lackluster marriage and a daughter he loves but cannot connect with; Arwood is a mid-western American private who might be an insufferable ignoramus, or might be a genuine lunatic with a death wish–it’s hard to tell.

Desert Storm is over, peace has been declared, but as they argue about whether it makes sense to cross the nearest border in search of an ice cream, they become embroiled in a horrific attack in which a young local girl in a green dress is killed as they are trying to protect her. The two men walk away into their respective lives. But something has cracked for them both.

Twenty-two years later, in another place, in another war, they meet again and are offered an unlikely opportunity to redeem themselves when that same girl in green is found alive and in need of salvation. Or is she?

I guess a war novel isn’t much of a stretch from a police novel so I shouldn’t be surprised by the topic here. What felt very different is that the Ødegård stories are funny and lighthearted at times while this one never gave me that feeling. It was always very serious and the situation Hobbs and Benton wind up in is never lighthearted. It’s very deadly and doesn’t seem as defined as the other Miller books I’ve read. I never got a read on Arwood and it bothered me. I didn’t understand what he was after and her personality type was not one I’d run into before and I couldn’t find any sympathy for him. I didn’t connect well with this book.

As I said, Arwood didn’t feel real to me. He was really aggressive in a way I haven’t encountered and that didn’t make me comfortable. He had me on edge the whole time. Benton seemed more human, but he was really different from me and it kept me from connecting. Marta was a bit more relatable to me because I understood her logic and determination a bit more than the other characters and I could sympathize with her a bit. But because she wasn’t one of the two major characters, it wasn’t enough for me to really connect with the book.

Marta was smart. She was able to negotiate the alphabet soup that is the aid agencies in a recovering region. She knew who to call and who was fighting with who and how to make things happen. I had a lot of respect for her and the way she made things happen when she shouldn’t have been able to make them happen.

Charlotte was the only character I related to. She was helpless to do anything to help her dad but she wanted to do something. I think that feeling of helplessness is shared with the current COVID-19 pandemic situation. We want to do something, we want to help, but we can’t. We get updates and news but nothing substantive happens. She felt like her world was falling apart and she couldn’t do anything to fix it. Right now, I really get that.

Derek B. Miller
Image via Twitter

I thought the hostage situation in this book was well written. Arwood was very aware of how fear could be used to make their situation worse and was always logical about how he and Benton were being treated. He knew what to do to give them the best chance possible. It was a good contrast between how Benton reacted and how Arwood reacted that made the scene interesting.

The way Arwood left the book bothered me. We got a lot of bits and pieces of his life between 1991 and 2013 and I didn’t see how they built him the personality he had in the later segment of the book. He seemed really impulsive and vindictive for someone in his field and it was hard to fathom the extent of his anger and determination. I found Benton’s ending appropriate and fitting. Arwood left me more confused than I had been when he was still in the book.

The audiobook I listened to was narrated by Will Damron. He did a fine job but nothing that stuck out to me. His voice sounds like other male narrators I’ve listened to before and I could swear I’ve listened to him but his name doesn’t sound familiar. Maybe he just sounds like someone else. He did well with the accents for all the international players in this novel. And I didn’t feel his female voices were at all demeaning.

This book has been called the modern Catch 22 and I can see why. Some things in war are not as serious as others and we have to laugh. Hostage situations are not funny. A non-native English speaker not understanding the difference between tiger and Tigger is funny. Some things in war are so complicated that we have to laugh and the bureaucracy that has to be navigated is comically complex at times. This book addresses those challenges and puts them in a context that does allow us to laugh but also to see the grim reality of what’s going on and how people are affected by it.

Writer’s Takeaway: Miller did a great job of having a very diverse cast of characters in his story. Benton is probably most like him (based on what I know of Miller) but he created a lot of people who weren’t like him at all and had different experiences and skills that the story needed. He did a great job creating a diverse group that reflects the reality of international aid groups.

I think I had different expectations for this book than could have been realized. I give it Three out of Five Stars.

Until next time, write on.

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Related Posts:
“The Girl In Green” by Derek B. Miller: Highly Recommended | Mike Finn’s Fiction
Review: The Girl in Green by Derek B. Miller | Simon McDonald