Friday, June 24, 2011

Toward Night's End by M.H. Sargent

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This WWII novel of Japanese-American honor and patriotism begins on March 30, 1942 when more than 250 Japanese-Americans living on Bainbridge Island, in Puget Sound, Washington, are being evacuated. The process goes quite smoothly until the Army discovers that a 21-year old Japanese-American fisherman, Matthew Kobata, is missing. During their search for Matthew, two Caucasian men are found murdered on the island.

Seattle detective Elroy Johnstone has come to the island to investigate the murders, and evidence is leading him to suspect Matthew may be involved. But he is one step behind as Matthew escapes on his fishing boat. With Matthew now emerging as the prime suspect in the murders, the detective’s investigation then takes him to Seattle where another murder has occurred. This time a Japanese-American.

Complicating matters, the coroner finds that both the Japanese-American and one of the Caucasian men have identical tattoos, both on the left ankle. But what do these tattoos mean? And who has killed these three men? Matthew? And if so, why? And most important, where is Matthew?

Johnstone’s investigation will take him from Seattle’s Naval Air Station to the Manzanar Relocation Center in Owens Valley, California, and back to Bainbridge Island. And, although he doesn’t know it, the clock is ticking and a countdown is in place for an event that could result in the unthinkable taking place Toward Night’s End.


Busy now chopping onions that would go into a meager stew for that evening’s meal, Kumiko literally jumped when another woman, came running through the mess hall’s back door, full of excitement. 
“Rice! Rice! We have rice!”

Kumiko couldn’t believe it and like the others, she quickly went outside. An Army Jeep was parked at the back door. Sacks and sacks of rice were being unloaded by two privates.
There was much discussion among them as to how much rice they should prepare, but it was finally decided, they would make as much rice as they could with the pots and pans they had available and serve it with the staple luncheon meat of the day – hotdogs. And that evening, there would be rice to go with the stew. Not potatoes.

And for the first time in what felt like forever, the entire Japanese-American mess hall staff praised Kumiko for getting the rice. She glowed at the warm reception, so at odds with the usual chill she received each and every day.

When the detainees filed in to lunch that afternoon, they were thrilled beyond belief to finally taste white rice again, and word quickly spread that it was due to Kumiko’s lobbying efforts. However, her enjoyment of the people’s goodwill was extremely short lived as it simply embittered others who insisted that she had only been able to get the rice because she was working in cahoots with the Army. So in one afternoon, she went from being praised for obtaining the rice, to being scorned – for obtaining the rice.
And so it went.

About M.H. Sargent

I have written for newspapers, magazines and even written some screenplays. Writing novels is my love, though. I now have 5 published titles: Seven Days From Sunday, The Shot To Die For, Operation Spider Web, The Yemen Connection and Toward Night’s End.

Interview with M.H. Sargent

N.L. Earnshaw: What will readers like about your book? 

M.H. Sargent: Anyone that likes a good mystery, will enjoy this book. I also think it gives a fair glimpse into what life was like for the thousands of Japanese-Americans put in camps during WWII.

N.L. Earnshaw: Why did you self publish? 

M.H. Sargent: I tried the traditional publishing route for years, had an agent for a while, but my stories were too controversial – my books dealing with present day Iraq, or this book which takes a slightly different view of the Japanese-American situation during WWII, opening the door to the idea that maybe not all the Japanese-Americans were pro-U.S.

N.L. Earnshaw: What is your writing process? 

M.H. Sargent: I usually write about 5 hours a day, starting early in the morning.

N.L. Earnshaw: How long does it take you to write your first draft? 

M.H. Sargent: Six to eight months.

N.L. Earnshaw: What inspired you to write this particular story? 

M.H. Sargent: My grandfather had a dairy farm in Norwalk, California for many years. He was an attorney and like many farmers in that region, he had Japanese tenant farmers handle the day-to-day operations of the farm. When the war started and the Japanese-Americans were put in camps, it was left to the land owners, their kids, etc., to help keep the farms going. A neighbor’s teenager, then doing the chores the Japanese-Americans usually did, uncovered an anti-aircraft gun hidden under a huge haystack in the barn. The Army was called and they picked up the massive weapon.

When I first heard this story, my imagination went into overdrive. How did they even get an anti-aircraft gun? When was it going to be used? Was there some sort of plan? A date of an attack and they were going to use it against our own planes? Of course, hearing the story also went against everything I had believed – that the Japanese-Americans should not have been sent to camps, they were pro-America, etc. But then I realized that you can’t put tens of thousands of people all in one category. What happened on that farm in Norwalk, California, did in fact happen. Of course, if the same event took place today, the teenager that found the anti-aircraft gun would put it on his Facebook page, send out text photos and messages to all his friends, etc. But in those days, it was kept very quiet. And for whatever reason, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. So, I ended up basing a fictional story on it.

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