The death of a young Iraqi girl in the chaotic aftermath of Operation Desert Storm will leave an indelible mark on two Western men who tried to save her.
Twenty-two years later, the chance to atone for her brutal murder and the hell unleashed by that first Gulf War takes them back into the broken heart and potent dangers of 21st century Iraq.
Derek B. Miller’s follow up to his prize-winning debut novel, Norwegian by Night, provides a stunning and unsettling insight into the troubled landscape of the Middle East and a soul-searching exploration of Western foreign policy.
A senior fellow with the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research and a public policy specialist, Miller delivers both a page-turning thriller brimming with psychological tension and a quietly powerful indictment of Western interventionism.
In 1991, Desert Storm is over, a so-called peace has been declared and at Checkpoint Zulu, one hundred miles from the Kuwaiti border, 22-year-old Private Arwood Hobbes of the US Army is bored and melting under the hot sun.
But the conflict is far from over and no one knows this better than 39-year-old British journalist Thomas Benton who reports from war zones and is embedded with the US troops.
Benton needs Arwood to help him makes an unofficial visit to a nearby rebel-held village so that he can dig out a story which will feature the views of Iraqi civilians on how President Bush’s brave new world will pan out for them.
But the two men become caught up in a horrific attack in which a local girl in a green dress, found cowering by a smouldering truck, is shot by a merciless Iraqi colonel as they are trying to protect her.
Shocked by his company captain’s casual dismissal of the girl’s death, Arwood begins to understand suddenly and painfully that ‘the only thing worse than evil was deciding that evil didn’t matter.’
Arwood and Benton walk away into their respective lives but something has changed for them both. Twenty-two years later in 2013, Arwood contacts Benton convinced that the girl in the green dress is still alive after seeing news footage from Kurdistan.
In another place, in another war, they meet again and are offered an unlikely opportunity to ‘set things right.’ But are they risking death or capture on what could just be a fool’s errand?
By setting his outstanding literary thriller in the confused, complex and volatile aftermath of conflict, Miller effectively guns down any notion of military heroics and instead focuses his verbal firepower on the plight of civilians caught up in the deadly wake of war.
The girl in the green dress metamorphoses into every innocent victim of war, a powerful reminder of man’s inhumanity to man but also a symbol of remembrance, redemption and, ultimately, hope for a better future.
The stakes are always high for Arwood Hobbes and Thomas Benton but it is only by going back to the most dangerous country in the world and risking never returning home that they can finally lay to rest the ghosts of their past and find answers to the questions that have crippled their lives for over two decades.
Written with Miller’s incisive wit, intelligence, compassion and authenticity, this is a novel from a writer fast becoming a master of his craft.
(Faber, hardback, £12.99)