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Wednesday 12 October 2016

‘The Girl in Green’ by Derek B. Miller

Published by Faber & Faber,
July 2016. 
ISBN 978-0-571-31395-2

At the end of Operation Desert Storm in 1991 a village girl of around 14 or 15 wearing a green dress was deliberately shot in the back by an Iraqi colonel. The horrific incident happened within thirty meters of a ceasefire line and in full sight of at least fifty US soldiers whose commanding officer forbade them to intervene because his superiors insisted that he put policy before humanity. Two men, a Time’s journalist, Thomas Benton and a US soldier, Arwood Hobbes, who had been helping the girl to escape, were effectively scarred for life by the experience. So much so that in the immediate aftermath of the incident Hobbes walked straight into a minefield to rescue a terrified young boy and Benton had a one-night fling with a Swedish charity worker, Marta Strom.

There is then a gap of twenty-two years whilst Benton, Hobbes and Strom have no contact with each other.

Then Hobbes, now in his mid-forties, believes he sees the girl in the green dress during a grenade attack that is broadcast on TV.  He immediately sends Benton, now aged sixty-three, a plane ticket and instructs the journalist to meet him at the Domiz refugee camp in Iraq.  The camp is a place of little hope where fifty-two different aid agencies are failing to cope with desperate Iraqi, Kurdish and Syrian citizens who have fled from their war-torn homes.

Benton does not believe it is the same girl who was shot all those years ago, but feels he owes it to Hobbes to go along with his plan to rescue this new girl.  Marta Strom now works at Dimiz.  Driven by her feelings for Benton, Marta helps co-opt the resources needed by the two men for their rescue attempt. The operation, that was always going to be dangerous, turns into a nightmare when Hobbes, with revenge at the top of his agenda, insists on deviating from the carefully organised plans.

The story is interspersed with glimpses of the characters’ lives during the 22 missing years.  Neither Benton nor Hobbes are really happy, and having failed to save the girl in green, it becomes clear that the success of their current mission is fundamental to their wellbeing if they are ever to engage meaningfully with life in the future. 

Despite its grim setting and content this well-informed, authentic narrative makes for compulsive reading. There is apposite comment and a surprising amount of dry humour as the characters, particularly Hobbes, react to the adverse situations and the surroundings they find themselves inhabiting. I have no hesitation in recommending it to anyone who is willing to share in the sheer misery of the refugees and the difficulties and horrible compromises that the various voluntary agencies have to face to bring even a modicum of civilization into their horrific world.
Reviewer Angela Crowther

Derek B. Miller is an American novelist, academic, and public policy specialist. His debut novel, Norwegian by Night, was awarded the Crime Writers' Associations John Creasey New Blood Dagger in 2013 for best new crime writer. A best seller in Germany for over four months (where it was published as Ein seltsamer Ort sum Sterben by Rowohlt Polaris), Norwegian by Night has been published in over a dozen countries as ether crime or literary fiction (e.g. Italy, Germany, the United States, and the Netherlands).

Angela Crowther is a retired scientist.  She has published many scientific papers but, as yet, no crime fiction.  In her spare time Angela belongs to a Handbell Ringing group, goes country dancing and enjoys listening to music, particularly the operas of Verdi and Wagner.

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