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Motor City Shakedown by D.E. Johnson
Review by Joseph B. Hoyos
Minotaur Books Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780312644574
Date: 13 September 2011 List Price $24.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Author's Website / Show Official Info /

In Detroit, 1911, Will Anderson, mechanical engineer and morphine addict, is seeking vengeance against the Adamo brothers who are responsible for the murder of Wesley McRae, a neighbor who saved his life. For many nights, Will follows Carlo Moretti, Adamo's driver, to his apartment, determined to use a gun to force him into revealing Adamo's hideout. When he finally musters enough courage to enter Moretti's abode, he discovers the man has been slain. Will is arrested and put on trial. A false confession from Giovanni Esposito, a stooge for the Gianolla brothers, frees him. However, Will is now beholden to the Gianollas who threaten to kill his family if he doesn't help the Teamsters Union become established inside the Anderson Electric Car Company. As an added incentive to ensure his cooperation, the Gianollas promise to help him kill the Adamos. Soon Will is caught in the middle of a vicious gang war that will claim many lives.

D.E. Johnson's superb historical noir, Motor City Shakedown, is more engaging, more complex and more violent than its predecessor, The Detroit Electric Scheme. One can't help feeling sympathy towards the novel's hero, Will Anderson, whose right hand is badly scarred and mutilated. He lives with constant guilt and pain and injects himself with morphine to ease his suffering; unfortunately, he must battle drug addiction. He is trying to make amends with his ex-fiancée, Elizabeth Hume; the murder of her wealthy father, Judge Hume, is partially his fault. So is the murder of his friend Wesley McRae, a flamboyant, up-and-rising pianist. Poor Will can't seem to stay out of trouble. He is surrounded by a multitude of vicious gang families: the Adamos, the Gianollas, and the Bernstein Boys. The most disturbing characters are the Bernsteins--four young Jewish brothers, street urchins--who are anything but sweet.

In Motor City Shakedown, the evil characters far outnumber the righteous ones. Will has a most difficult time knowing which of the gang members and thugs he can trust. It goes without saying that many of the Detroit police officers are crooked. Will relies heavily upon the aid of Elizabeth, Detective Thomas Riordan, and his best friend, Edsel Ford. I enjoyed how D.E. Johnson incorporated numerous real-life characters into his fiction. From the Author's Note at the end of the book, the reader will learn that the Adamos and Gianollas actually existed. It is quite obvious that the author conducted an incredible amount of research in order to bring to us Detroit, the automobile capital of the world, as it existed one hundred years ago. He describes in explicit detail the clothing, customs, architecture and technology, especially that of the automobile industry. Surprisingly enough, citizens were concerned, as they are today, about an economic downturn. In the novel, there are crippling strikes involving mass transportation.

Antique car aficionados and history buffs who relish a good mystery will most definitely want to read D.E. Johnson's riveting Motor City Shakedown. Be forewarned, this is not a happily-ever-after, feel-good cozy. It is a violent, disturbing noir packed with plenty of bloodshed and gore. Despite all the violence, there is the grisly, underlying murder that remains unsolved until nearly the last page. Who really killed Carlo Moretti? There are numerous suspects and plenty of plot twists that kept me guessing.

I must admit that I enjoyed Motor City Shakedown more so than its previous novel, The Detroit Electric Scheme. I was excited to learn that this intriguing series will continue with Johnson's third novel, Detroit Breakdown. Always in trouble, Will Anderson finds himself locked inside Wayne County’s enormous mental institution, Eloise Hospital.

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