Face of the Enemy: A New York in Wartime Mystery (Helluva War) by Joanne Dobson and Beverle Graves Myers

Face of the Enemy Reviewed by Caryn St. Clair

Dobson, the author of the Karen Pelletier series, and Myers, author of the Tito Amato series have joined forces for a new series far removed from either of their previous work.
Face of the Enemy, set in New York City at the onset of World War II, explores the “alien enemy” frenzy that overtook our country. People turned on their friends and neighbors and stood by while people of German, Italian and Japanese descent were rounded up and held in camps. Setting Face of the Enemy in New York City easily allowed the authors to tell their story through the voices of residents from many backgrounds.

Masako Fumi Oakley, an up and coming artist and wife of a prominent professor is none the less targeted because of her background. Never mind that she grew up around the world, studied in France and has been estranged from her family for fifteen years. She is of Japanese descent and therefore viewed as the enemy. The first public showing of her work was a rousing success until an influential guest took exception to the show. When a body is found the next week in the gallery, police have to wonder if the murder connected to the Japanese artist’s work.

While the murder and the possible connection to Fumi’s art exhibit is the main plot, there is another storyline involving a German family as well. The Schroeder family has always been proud of their German heritage. For awhile, the family traveled to Camp Siegfried on the weekend to gather with other German families and enjoy their German heritage-the food, the music and being able to speak their native tongue. When things began to turn political at the camp, Helda refuses to go and keeps Howie from going as well. Worse, her husband Ernst disappeared with others from the Camp Siegfried. Is he really out West exploring business opportunities? And if not, where is he?

Louise Hunter, a new arrival to the city from Louisville, Kentucky and homicide detective Michael McKenna make believable protagonists. Louise becomes the private duty nurse to Professor Oakley when he contracts pneumonia. She is at their apartment when the FBI takes Masako away. Because the Oakleys both trust and consider Louise more than an employee, she is in a unique position to gather information for Detective McKenna.

The authors have managed to really bring this slice of American history alive for readers. The novel is written by telling the story of two separate families victimized by the wave of patriotism that suddenly turned friends and neighbors against one another. I believe some readers may well see a modern day lesson in the novel. Because the reader really gets to know the families and is easily caught up in their plight, I think this would make an excellent book for junior high and high school supplemental reading lists.

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