“War makes possible enemies out of people whom we have considered friendly acquaintances for many years. Yet the dangers attendant on having people who would furnish information to the enemy in our midst is too great to allow a relaxation of alertness. Aliens loyal to Mussolini or Hitler are just as dangerous to us right now as the Japanese.”
After the unexpected death of his wife Elizabeth, Homicide Detective Oliver Wright is back in his childhood city of Richmond reuniting with his District Attorney brother Peter and his father Honorable Judge Wright. 1941 Richmond, California two kids named Sammy and Ellie Fleming are playing in the fields and are accidentally killed in a brush fire gone awry. Believed to be the work of the Ku Klux Clan in a cross-burning ceremony, word around town is that it was only intended to send a message to a prospective coloured home buyer and not to kill innocent children. Upon arrival Judge Wright asks his son Oliver to investigate the deaths of the Fleming children and see if there is more to it than meets the eye. Oliver agrees to work on it until December before he travels down the coast to his current home of Seattle so he can continue his own detective work. With his trained German Shepherd sidekick Harley, Oliver finds out that the town he left not so long ago is nowhere close to how he remembered it.
Italians, Japanese and Germans are being detained for sympathizing with fascists based on rumour and innuendo or for even “spreading” their culture (whatever that means). From his questioning of locals he finds that American-Italians are being taken off the streets, disappearing out of the marine layer of the Bay Area with no tell-tale sign or trail of where they have gone. Italians that have been in America for more than forty years feel like aliens in their OWN country.Not only have they faced persecution due to the darkness of their own skin from fellow Italians, they now feel no sense of belonging in their adopted home country. With nowhere to grieve and no one to suffer with, some feel that suicide is the only option left to them. Furthermore African-American woman are being raped and are proclaiming that this attacker has been haunting their streets for over twelve years. With no one there to protect them and fears of being attacked again many woman have remained quiet about their victimization until the chance meeting of a man with a trustworthy face like Oliver.
The “story” depicts a “fictional” account/portrayal of how people of specific races, genders and ancestral origin were treated during World War 2 in the Bay Area. Like all prejudice, fear is bred on the foundation whereby hate and violence are built from pillar to post, level on level, eventually left for generations until it is hopefully torn down. Specifically, the author writes about the restrictions placed on Italian-Americans before the Armistice and the unique treatment thereafter. The author also accounts for the experiences of black soldiers who were willing to die for the country that continually beat them down, but never broke their spirit.
One of the more interesting focal points of the novel took place in the psyche of the soldiers held captive on Angel Island. Italian POW’s on Angel Island are faced with a crazy notion of changing perspectives from killing the enemy to helping the enemy. Staying true to your fascist leader or risk being killed for being a traitor. Being relocated to various industrial sites across America where you can either have freedoms and make some money, or being sent to highly-controlled work camps with regimented schedules. If there was ever a need for a mental “pro’s and con’s” chart this would be the time that would keep you up at night in deliberation.
” ‘What did you do…before the war?’
‘I was a psychiatrist – hence my ability not to answer questions. I suppose I still am – I listen to people and help them to face their fears.”
‘And your greatest fear?’
‘During wartime? What we all fear: first, death, for ourselves and the people we love, but, in the end, the most destructive thing of all: becoming like the enemy.’ “
I also enjoyed the teamwork found within three vastly different people with one common psychological characteristic. Throughout my notes I referred to them as The Three Muskateers pretty much for my own amusement. Along with Oliver there was Corporal Nate Hermit who served with Oliver and Harley in Guam and an Italian POW/psychiatrist Luca Respighi who had knack for charming everyone he came into contact with. Talk about good cop, bad cop, provocative cop, with this team they must get all the answers.
The mystery carries over from chapter-to-chapter, page-to-page with no letting up. The author does a great job in addressing plenty of issues that are very rarely covered in books about the effects of World War 2 and Pearl Harbor on American soil, and how feelings were after the Armistice in 1943. When I read about another World War 2 book I always think to myself, what more is left to be said? This book managed to surprise me to no end. Plenty of unrelated events happen that bring various people together that otherwise would never have come into contact. My only gripe with this book was the inclusion of many characters. At one point I found myself quite confused with the Dom Caputo storyline. I eventually gathered myself but at one point I had to give my head a shake in fear that I may miss a vital role in the story. That part of the mystery eluded me the most throughout, but I eventually got my head around it. All in all this is a solid read and I recommend it to anyone that enjoys a multi-layered mystery about a common motivation delivered with a unique perspective.
“The war seemed to be reversing the natural order of things. American soldiers were in Italy, fighting to liberate the country from the fascists and the Nazis, and Italian soldiers were in America, collecting garbage and working in the fields. Harry was an attorney – he had no illusions about life being fair or justice existing in the world. But there had to be limits to unfairness.”