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Face of the Enemy by Joanne Dobson and Beverle Graves Myers

Face of the Enemy” is not only a great whodunit, it is also a first-rate historical account of the virulent hatred against Japanese-Americans that occurred in the United States immediately after the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941.

In this fictionalized account, Masako Fumi Oakley, the talented artist who is the wife of a prominent Columbia University professor of Asian history, is rounded up and held by the FBI right after the Pearl Harbor attack.  Masako had held a showing of her works at a prominent New York gallery and the show had been cut short by protesters who threatened to destroy the gallery and harm the owner if the show was not stopped.  When that same gallery owner turns up dead the local police find Masako a convenient scape-goat and the FBI wants to use Masako as a pawn in exchange for Americans stuck in Asia.  She is not only accused of being a murderer, but also of being a spy for her father, a high ranking Japanese official.  They will not listen to Masako’s insistence that she is more American than Asian and has severed all ties with her family.

The person who steadfastly believes in Masako’s innocence is nurse, Louise Hunter, who has recently been employed to care for the professor who is bedridden with pneumonia.  Hunter must do all the things the professor would normally do to try to prove Masako’s innocence and to find good legal representation for her.

In addition to shining an unflattering light on U.S. policy toward its German- and Japanese-American citizens and long-time residents during the early years of World War II, the book spins a good mystery.  There are plenty of potential suspects who might have good reason to murder the gallery owner:  his male lover, the anti-Japanese protesters, someone who took a precious Japanese brush pot, someone jealous of Misako and anxious to frame her, and the list goes on.   It takes Louise most of the length of the book to figure the mystery out.

The book is very well researched.  I appreciate that the authors even take pains to have the characters use slang and other words that would have been commonly used in New York of 1941.

Face of the Enemy” is a very successful collaboration between two acclaimed mystery authors, Joanne Dobson of New York and Beverle Graves Myers of Kentucky.

Liz Nichols

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