The History Behind THE ENEMY AT HOME

by Kevin O’Brien

When my first thriller, The Next to Die (2001) became a USA Today Bestseller, I was pleasantly stunned. 

“Congratulations,” the horror author, John Saul, told me. “From now on, your readers will expect a new thriller from you every year. And you better damn well deliver!”

Deliver I did: 22 thrillers in 22 years. Some of them were New York Times Bestsellers. All of them were “stand alone” contemporary suspense stories set in my own backyard: Seattle.

It took a pandemic for me to switch gears and try something a little different. My new thriller takes place on the Homefront during World War II. The Enemy at Home is the story of Nora Kinney, a housewife and mother who takes a “Rosie the Riveter” job while her doctor-husband serves in the Army Medical Corps in North Africa. After a new friend from work is strangled, Nora starts to realize a killer is preying on women war workers.

There was never any doubt that Seattle would once again be the setting for my suspense story. Seattle went through a boom during the war, becoming one of the top three cities in defense contracts. By 1943, when The Enemy at Home takes place, Seattle earned over a billion dollars in aircraft industry contracts and $709 million in shipyard contracts. Boeing, where my fictional Nora works, made B17 and B29 bomber planes. The shipyards produced battleships, destroyers, minesweepers, aircraft carriers and other vessels for the war effort.

Tens of thousands of people poured into Seattle for defense jobs, most of them women. And they weren’t always welcome by the male employees at these war plants. “No woman can do my job,” seemed to be the attitude of many. And they didn’t like being proven wrong. These men suddenly found themselves working alongside women—and people of color. 

Close to ten thousand African-Americans came to Seattle for employment opportunities during the war. Of course, wages for women and African-Americans were lower than those for white men working the same jobs.

If that seems like a great injustice, consider Executive Order 9066 and the internment of Japanese-Americans in April, 1942. Over twelve thousand people of Japanese ancestry in Washington State lost their homes and livelihoods when they were incarcerated in internment camps (mostly in desolate parts of Idaho and Montana). They were allowed to bring with them only as much as they could carry, and conditions in these camps was primitive to say the least.

In The Enemy at Home, Nora has rented her garage apartment to a Japanese-American couple who are shipped away to the camps. Like so many others, they were both born in the United States, and the wife didn’t even speak Japanese. Seattle experienced a drastic shortage of certain fresh fruits and vegetables after so many Japanese-American farmers were shipped off to the camps.

But food and gas shortages were part of the war. So were strictly-enforced citywide blackouts. Streetlights and store signs went off at 11 PM. Porchlights shut off, and shades or special blackout curtains were drawn. The blackouts lead to a spike in automobile accidents and crime. But the darkness shrouding the city helped protect against potential attacks from enemy planes and subs.

A blacked-out city is also the perfect setting for a suspense thriller. So is a sense of constant dread.

That brand of fear predominated on both coasts. The possibility of enemy invasion or attack seemed very real. With all of its defense plants and military bases, Seattle was a logical prime target. It was the first city to have an air raid drill. Sandbags lined many downtown municipal buildings for the duration of the war.

And at Boeing’s B17 plant, they created a special roof to throw off possible aerial attacks. Hollywood set designer, John Stewart Detlie, fashioned a fake “residential town” with half-sized plywood houses, streets, and burlap trees and bushes. From the air, it looked like a sleepy little neighborhood—while below, they churned out fighter planes that would turn the tide of the war. 

I wanted so much to incorporate Boeing’s fake roof into The Enemy at Home. I even considered having a murder victim discovered in one of those small, hollow, plywood houses. But my story is set in 1943, and the rooftop facade wasn’t completed until 1944. That seems rather late in the war now, but at the time, everyone imagined the conflict—with the Invasion of Japan—grinding on for at least another two years.

Getting into peoples’ mindset and their daily routine during the war was a fun challenge for me when I wrote The Enemy at Home. World War II put Seattle on the map. My book is a salute to that city—and to the brave, resourceful women who helped lead us to victory.

As WWII rages overseas, a serial killer preys on women working in Seattle’s factories in this provocative blend of vivid, richly detailed historical fiction and taut suspense from New York Times bestselling author Kevin O’Brien.

“Tantalizing…had me guessing and turning pages right up to the final, shocking reveal—which I never saw coming.” —Charlie Donlea, bestselling author of Twenty Years Later

“Fast-paced, suspenseful, and intriguing… Super enjoyable.” —Elizabeth George, #1 New York Times bestselling author

“A sweeping, addictive story of bravery and sacrifice…Authentic period detail creates a suspenseful, chilling atmosphere in this grand historical novel.” —Susan Wiggs, #1 New York Times bestselling author

1943, Seattle. While raging war reshapes the landscape of Europe, its impact is felt thousands of miles away too. Before the war, Nora Kinney was one of countless housewives and mothers in her comfortable Capitol Hill neighborhood. Now, with her doctor husband stationed in North Africa, Nora feels compelled to do more than tend her victory garden or help with scrap metal drives . . .

At the Boeing B-17 plant, Nora learns to wield a heavy riveting gun amid the deafening noise of the assembly line—a real-life counterpart to “Rosie the Riveter” in the recruitment posters. Yet while the country desperately needs their help, not everyone is happy about “all these women” taking over men’s jobs. Nora worries that she is neglecting her children, especially her withdrawn teenage son. But amid this turmoil, a sinister tragedy occurs: One of Nora’s coworkers is found strangled in her apartment, dressed in an apron, with a lipstick smile smeared on her face.

It’s the beginning of a terrifying pattern, as women war-plant workers like Nora are targeted throughout Seattle and murdered in the same ritualistic manner. And eclipsing Nora’s fear for her safety is her secret, growing conviction that she and the killer are connected—and that the haven that was her home has become her own personal battlefield . . .