The Detroit Electric Scheme: A Mystery
by D.E. Johnson
Cover Artist: Bonnie Clas / Rodrigo Corral Design
Review by Joseph B. Hoyos
Minotaur Books Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780312644567
Date: 14 September 2010 List Price $24.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Handsome, young Will Anderson isn't living up to the expectations of his wealthy father, owner of Detroit Electric. An alcoholic, he is constantly getting into trouble with the police because of bad decisions, especially when it comes to finding dead bodies. Late at night, Will gets a call from a former college friend, John Cooper, asking him to meet him inside the machining room at the Anderson Carriage Company. Upon his arrival, he discovers that John has been crushed beyond recognition by a hydraulic roof press. Instead of calling the police, Will rushes home and throws away his bloody clothing. Now someone has retrieved his clothing and is blackmailing him. As Will searches for the true killer, the body count rises and he finds not only his life in danger but the lives of his friends and former fiancée, Elizabeth Hume.
D.E. Johnson's intriguing mystery debut, The Detroit Electric Scheme, is an action packed thrill ride; it transports the reader back in time to Detroit of 1910 when the automobile industry was in its infancy. A gruesome murder grabs the reader from the very beginning. The reader becomes entangled in a diabolical scheme of greed and revenge that is destined to frame twenty-two-year-old William C. Anderson, Jr., as the "Electric Executioner." Burly union breakers, brutal detectives, corrupt public officials, and Italian mobsters comprise this scheme. Will's investigation takes him from the glitz and glamor of Detroit's theaters and convention centers to seedy saloons where drugs are sold. Several times he is brutally interrogated while in jail. Will is befriended by seventeen-year-old boy genius Edsel Ford and a popular gay singer and pianist Wesley McRae. During all this, Will attempts to detoxify Elizabeth who is a heroin addict. The ending for The Detroit Electric Scheme is a gruesome shocker that will satisfy most mystery fans.
I couldn't help but feel sorry for Will. The heir to an automobile empire, he's not the driven, nose-to-the-grindstone workaholic like his wealthy, successful father. Unable to fit into his father's shoes, Will lives his life emptying one bottle of bourbon after another. How do I know he's an alcoholic? He can't sleep at night without drinking a half bottle of bourbon. (Unfortunately, he's not the only alcoholic; twin brothers John and Horace Dodge are notorious for becoming drunk and engaging in bar brawls.) It seems that poor Will suffers a lot of physical and emotional pain throughout this novel. Some of it he brings upon himself by constantly running away from, rather than facing, his problems. Always getting beat up, almost to death, Will spends nearly as much time in the hospital as he does in jail. On numerous occasions, someone is looking at his face and asking, "What happened to you now?"
The Detroit Electric Scheme is one of those rare novels that is both action driven and character driven. It has some extremely realistic, unusual characters. Initially, Will is not someone who would qualify as hero material. I didn't like him. He set himself up to be victimized by the killer. However, during the course of the novel, Will experiences an extreme character makeover. He is transformed from an alcoholic, homophobic, selfless, undependable brat to someone who is genuinely more caring and loving. He is willing to sacrifice himself to help others. As the novel progressed, I began to like him increasingly more. I was excited to learn that the author is already busy at work on a sequel, and there is plenty of intriguing material for one. In 1910, the Detroit automobile industry has plenty of scheming villains. The numerous automobile companies are very competitive. The Employers Association of Detroit (EAD) is constantly attempting to break up the unions, such as the American Federation of Labor (AFL), who strive for fair wages. The corrupt government officials are ever willing to take bribes from all facets of the automobile industry.
Antique automobile enthusiasts as well as American history buffs will enjoy The Detroit Electric Scheme. The unique setting - Detroit in 1910 - makes this novel worth reading. Were times simpler back then? Not according to this superb mystery. The police definitely seemed more brutal; suspects had fewer rights. Heroin seemed easier to obtain; one could get it from a pharmacy, with or without a prescription. Technology was still in its infancy. Overall, I highly recommend this historical mystery. Another one, which I highly recommend is Irene Flemings The Edge of Ruin, which deals with the infancy of the film industry in New York City of 1909. Both novels involve unions, Pinkertons, police brutality and Thomas Edison. Other historical mysteries of interest are: Julian Cole's The Amateur Historian, Daniëlle Hermans' The Tulip Virus and Blake Crouch's Abandon. All three of these novels alternate between unsolved mysteries of the past and parallel mysteries occurring in the present.