Finalist for the CWA Gold Dagger Award, “Best Crime Novel of the Year”
“As daring in execution as imagination, this adventure tale crackles with heart, charm and dark honesty.” — Shelf Awareness
“Not to be missed, this is a compelling combination of literate storytelling and action-packed thriller laced with humor.” — Library Journal, starred review
1991. One hundred miles from the Kuwaiti border, Thomas Benton meets Arwood Hobbes. Benton is a British journalist who is starting an ambitious career reporting from war zones, resulting in the estrangement of his wife and daughter; Arwood is a naive small-town American private bored out of his skull waiting for something—anything—to happen. 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 as changed men. Time, politics, or maybe fate is now offering an unlikely opportunity to redeem themselves when that same girl in green is found alive and in need of salvation. Or is she?
“Written with Miller’s incisive wit, intelligence, compassion and authenticity, this is a novel from a writer fast becoming a master of his craft.” — Evening Post (UK)
“Swift, gripping, and mined with surprises.” — David Shafer, author of Whiskey Tango Foxtrot
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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
PART I: AN EARLY SPRING
Arwood Hobbes was bored. Not regular bored. Not your casual, rainy-day, Cat in the Hat–style bored that arrives with the wet, leaving you with nothing to do. It wasn’t post-fun or pre-excitement bored, either. It was, somehow, different. It felt rare and deliberate, entire and complete, industrial and inescapable. It was the kind of bored that had you backstroking in the green mist of eternity wondering about the big questions without searching for answers. And it wasn’t in short supply, either, because it was being dispensed like candy on Halloween to Arwood and others like him at Checkpoint Zulu at the rim of the Euphrates Valley, in the heart of Iraq, by the world’s largest contractor of boredom: the United States Army.
How long had he been bored? How long was he destined to be bored? Arwood couldn’t even muster the motivation to care as he melted over his machine gun under the hot, hot sun that was pressing down on the sandy sand around him without a raindrop in sight and no one offering to cheer him up.
The M60 machine gun was the perfect height for leaning on. It was probably the perfect height for firing, too, but Arwood had no proof of that because he hadn’t fired the gun since qualifying on it, and there was nothing to aim at because everything was far away, apart from a camel; and while he did point the gun at the camel for a while, it ultimately seemed a mean thing to do, so he stopped. That was eons ago. Nothing fun like that had happened since. Even the camel had gone away.
It wasn’t that Arwood was unfamiliar with being bored and that his resistance was low. After all, Operation Desert Storm — now over — had really been just a month-long air campaign on exposed Iraqi troops followed by a four-day ground war, which meant there wasn’t a lot of ground war for him or his buddies, or much for people on the ground to actually do. For Arwood, the Gulf War primarily involved him doing a lot of nothing for three months in the sand, jogging expectantly beside an APC with his gun for a few days, only to be told it was “over.” But at least back then there had been a sense that something might happen. There was a sense of possibility.
Possibility was but a popped balloon for Arwood.
And at the very moment they were all expected to go home, his company drew the shortest of short straws and they’d been deployed here to Checkpoint Zulu, 240 kilometers from the Kuwaiti border. He had no idea why. This time there was nothing to look forward to but peace. Endless, tedious, nondescript, fluffy-white peace.
You could eat a grenade, you really could.
It was into this stagnant vortex of quietude and forenothingness that a form approached Arwood from across the desert.
Like everything else in Iraq, it came at him sideways.
Arwood didn’t look. He sort of liked not knowing. Perhaps it was a guy wearing sandals who had a beard like Jesus. Or maybe it wasn’t a man at all. Maybe it was the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come who was doing his rounds and was there to let Arwood know that — on account of global warming, acid rain, and El Niño, not to mention the global shortage of decent people and the high price of coal — Christmas was going to be canceled.
Whatever it was was getting bigger, which probably meant it was getting closer. It probably wasn’t something dangerous, though; it was approaching from this side of the ceasefire line. But it wasn’t going to be anything good, either. It wasn’t going to be one of Charlie’s Angels. It wasn’t going to be Daisy Duke. It wasn’t going to be Kelly LeBrock in her blue-and-white panties appearing out of red mist from a doorway. No, it was probably going to be orders.
A different mind, a different person, might have welcomed orders because it would have ushered in “change.” Not Arwood. The only thing worse than boredom was labor, and he didn’t want to wash anything, dig anything, move anything, stack anything, fill anything, load anything, unload anything, peel anything, or — and this was critical — smell anything awful. Given that he was twenty-two and a private, rather than, say, fifty and a nuclear physicist, all these things were on the shortlist of the possible.
No, he wasn’t going to look up. He would cherish the uncertainty for as long as he could.
Which fate had decided would end right . . . about . . . now.
“Want a cigarette?” asked a man who was now man-sized and to his right.
The man stood next to Arwood’s sandbags. Arwood considered them his sandbags, not so much because he was manning a machine gun behind them as because he was the one who had filled them.
Arwood accepted the cigarette by opening his mouth. The man placed it in and lit it. Arwood inhaled, grateful only that it gave him a pretext to keep breathing.
“I’m Thomas Benton,” the man said.
“What’s your name?”
“Hobbes. Interesting name to take into a war zone.”
“No reason. Where are you from?”
“Yes, I figured, given the uniform. Any place special?”
“Never felt like it.”
“I’m from a village in Cornwall,” Benton offered.
“I don’t know where that is.”
“Cornwall is in England.”
“That’s overseas, right?”
Thomas Benton squatted down behind Arwood’s sandbags because it was cool and shady there. Benton looked across the desert to the still town a kilometer and a half away.
“You’re a journalist?”
“Yes. The Times.”
Arwood did not move from his resting position. “When is this war gonna end?”
“It did. The war is over. This is the peace. Now the lawyers are drafting the UN permanent-ceasefire resolution.”
“We’re waiting for paperwork?”
“It’s the Western way of war. Even Hitler filed his paperwork. Without it we become confused. What’s your job?”
“I’m maintaining a vigilant perimeter.”
“Safwan,” Benton said, “if you’re curious, is way back there. That’s where your general, Stormin’ Norman, met the Iraqi high command. It is also where he made the mistake of letting them fly helicopters, which is what they are using to kill everyone connected to the uprisings down south and up north. It’s a bloodbath.”
“I thought that was Safwan,” Arwood said, not bothering to motion to the town at the end of his machine gun.
“When do I get to go home?”
“The Americans are the ones sticking around the longest, though some of you shipped out on the seventeenth. It could be a while.”
Arwood finally moved his head by shaking it. “It’s not fair that we have to sit around here like the Breakfast Club.”
Benton shrugged and wiped his face with a red bandanna. He was not smoking. He had eaten something in the morning that disagreed with him, and he’d opted not to push his luck further with a cigarette.
“It might not be calm for long. You should try and enjoy it.”
Arwood perked up. “What do you mean?”
“Doesn’t your commanding officer explain all this to you?”
“You mean Harvey?”
“I don’t know his name.”
“Lieutenant Harvey Morgan. No, he doesn’t explain anything. He’s full of shit, and never makes sense because he keeps reading quotes from the government, and they speak in riddles. What do you mean it won’t be calm for long?”
“The Iraqi civil war. It’ll have to get here eventually. You see that green flag over there? On top of that onion-shaped water tower?” Benton pointed to a tower in the middle of the town.
“Yeah. If you watch it really, really closely for hours, it sometimes moves,” Arwood said.
“It’s a Shiite flag. That means they’ve overthrown the Sunni government in the city. It’s only a matter of time before Saddam sends troops here to change that back.”
“You’re actually in the eye of a storm. You are the American soldier deepest in Iraqi territory. Did you know that?”
“Why are you here?” Arwood asked. “At my post?”
“The view, mainly. It’s as close as I can get without crossing the demarcation line. I’m embedded in your company. I’ve been reporting on what’s been happening with your fellows.”
“Which is nothing.”
“Well, there was the mass surrender.”
“Yeah. That was fun.”
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Being a part of the military community I did lose sleep over this book. However it was worth the time to see an author really connect with the raw emotions of experience that our military agrees to upon enlistment.
The Girl in Green is the second novel by American novelist and international policy specialist, Derek B. Miller. It’s late March 1991, and United States Army Private Arwood Hobbes is at the northern edge of Checkpoint Zulu, “maintaining a vigilant perimeter” in Iraq’s newly-brokered peace, when a British journalist from the Times wanders up. Thomas Benton is a seasoned war correspondent who’s after the story from a local perspective. With some encouragement from Arwood, he walks toward nearby Samawah, intent on interviews and ice cream. A surprise attack sees Hobbes and Benton trying to rescue a villager, “the girl in green”, but the situation somehow ends badly, leading to their removal from the area and an eventual “other-than-honourable” discharge for Hobbes. Fast forward twenty-two years, when a lingering feeling of guilt and a YouTube clip see Hobbes and Benton once again trying to rescue “the girl in green”. Is it human design or divine intervention that sees the original players of the drama and its aftermath gathered together again? Their mission is surely insane and bound to fail! As with Norwegian By Night, Miller gives the reader an original plot with plenty of action, a twist or two, and a thrilling climax. Generous doses of tension are relieved by the banter between the characters, which is often blackly funny. Miller’s characters are wholly believable and, for all their quirks and very human flaws, especially appealing. Miller’s considerable personal experience in both conflict zones and policy making is apparent on every page and he raises several thought provoking topics, including the intricate coordination and extensive diplomatic skills required in hostage negotiations, the crazy Catch 22 in the Department of Veteran Affairs that exists for veterans needing psychological counselling, the failure of foreign organisations to become familiar with the language, politics and customs of the countries they are purporting to aid, and the fate of national staff of NGOs when their employers withdraw due to escalating hostilities. Miller gives the reader a novel that is topical and highly relevant in today’s world. Fans of Norwegian By Night will not be disappointed with Miller’s latest literary foray and will be hoping for more from this talented author soon. The Girl in Green is exciting, insightful and entertaining: another brilliant read.