Tracey's Reviews > Face of the Enemy: A New York in Wartime Mystery #1

Face of the Enemy by Joanne Dobson
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Feb 20, 2015

really liked it
bookshelves: mystery, netgalley, wwii, 4-star
Read from May 19 to 20, 2012

Extremely belated review:

"2:33. 2:33 on a sunny Sunday afternoon, and nothing will ever be the same."

This is the second Netgalley offering I've read this year which featured an interracial (Japanese immigrant and white American) couple in 1941 who were directly affected by the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The two books were utterly different in all other ways, though, apart from both being very good.

Here, the couple is Robert and Masako Oakley, respectively a professor and an artist living in Manhattan. At Masako's show, which by terrible coincidence opens on just before Pearl Harbor. Much more happens than just the sale of paintings: protesters picket outside, two racist society dissenters invade the show and deface one of the paintings, and Robert – refusing to spoil his beloved wife's big night by giving in to illness – is literally brought down by the illness he's been ignoring. Events gallop on from there: Pearl Harbor is attacked, and the FBI round up anyone of Japanese origins for internment. And when the body is found in the gallery, placed under one of Masako's paintings, the police join in the hounding, pretty darn sure that – tiny and non-violent as she is – she must be the killer.

I've been a fan of Joanne Dobson's Professor Karen Pelletier books for ages, and so I was delighted to get my hands on this through Netgalley (to whom go my thanks). Dobson (along with her coauthor Beverle Graves Myers, of course) does every bit as lovely a job on 1941 New York as she does with present-day academic Massachusetts. The setting is true-to-life, the emotions of even minor characters adding to the entirety of a shocked and angry city changing its mind about war. And the situation Masako is dropped into is horrific. Bureaucratic red tape mixed with a vengeful attitude, righteousness and anger combined with "just doing my job, ma'am" – all swirling around a character who quickly becomes someone the reader does not want dropped into a hideous situation: it's powerful.

Fortunately, detective Michael McKenna – who reminded me of Riker from the Kathy Mallory novels – is not blinded by the surge of racial hatred; he just wants to find and put away the actual murderer. Whether he wants it or not he has assistance from the nurse brought in to look after Robert, Louise – and also Louise's roommate at a boarding house that reminded me in ways of Stage Door (and the similar house in the Rosie Winter novels). The latter is Intrepid Girl Reporter Cabby Ward, Louise's roommate, who is finding out just how hard it is to be a girl in a men's world – but she's tough, and determined, and willing to do just about anything for her story. It's only a little later that she has the realization I wish all reporters would have – that the people in the case, victim and suspect(s) and cops, are people, not just subjects for an article, and that the ethics of a story might just be as important as the sensation.

I like these characters. I like the use of the immigrant ethos of New York to bring the moment in time to life: Masako's plight, along with that of Louise's landlady, German-born Helda, and her son. The American homefront of WWII is one of my favorite settings, surprisingly underused in my experience (though See Also Rosie Winter); it makes me very happy to know this is the beginning of a series.
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