by D.E. Johnson
Review by Joseph B. Hoyos
Minotaur Books Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9781250006622
Date: 04 September 2012 List Price $25.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
In 1912, Will Anderson, pretending to have amnesia, is committed as a patient to Eloise Hospital in Wayne County, Michigan. Suffering much humiliation and torture at the hands of the abusive staff, Will searches for Elizabeth Hume's cousin, Robert Clarke, who is suspected of strangling a patient. Meanwhile, Elizabeth poses as a volunteer. Together, they search for Robert who is supposedly being held in solitary confinement. Soon they learn that a vicious serial killer, known by the patients as the Phantom, is stalking and strangling whoever tries to escape Eloise Hospital.
D.E. Johnson's Detroit Breakdown is his best novel yet in the mystery series chronicling the adventures of Will Anderson, heir to Detroit Electric, the prominent manufacturer of electric automobiles. In Johnson's first novel, The Detroit Electric Scheme, Will battles union corruption; in the second one, Motor City Shakedown, he is thrown into the midst of a mob war. Now he is trying to unmask a serial killer who is terrorizing the patients of an insane asylum.
Throughout the series, Will has matured from a selfish, spoiled boy to a caring, self-sacrificing man who has made everyone proud, including Detective Thomas Riordan who was once his bitter enemy. However, Will has paid a hefty price. His right hand has been permanently scarred and disabled by sulfuric acid and he has been repeatedly beaten and shot. At Eloise Hospital, he endures some tortuous treatments for amnesia and the long-term side effects of those are yet unknown.
However, Will isn't the only character who has undergone a transformation due to the hardships they have suffered. There is Elizabeth "Lizzie" Hume. She overcame heroin addiction, the shocking revelation that her father was a criminal and then the heartache of his subsequent murder. Now she is being the dutiful daughter as she helps her mother cope with the onset of dementia (Alzheimer's disease). Elizabeth, a member of the Michigan Equal Suffrage Association, is also busy fighting for women's right to vote. Adding to her burdens is her constant fear of not knowing whether Will and Robert are safe.
Eloise Hospital drives its patients deeper into insanity. No one is cured. No one escapes alive. Patients are abused by the cruel, sadistic doctors and their muscle-bound orderlies. They must undergo experimental treatments that are barbaric forms of torture such as intermittent immersions into freezing cold and scalding hot baths and radiation exposure that burns flesh and hair. Being a patient of Eloise Hospital is worse than being incarcerated in a state penitentiary. During the day, the patients are subjected to many types of humiliation, degradation, and human suffering and at night they are stalked and strangled by a mysterious phantom dressed all in black. The spooky atmosphere and plot reminded me of the numerous horror film classics I watched as a child in the seventies such as The House that Screamed, Asylum and Baron Blood.
Detroit Breakdown is a fast-paced historical whodunit that is quite suspenseful, creepy and horrifying. I thought I knew the identity of the Phantom but I was wrong. The ending was rather a shocker. Also, the body count turned out to be much higher than I had first anticipated. The serial killer had been quite active before their first appearance at Eloise Hospital. Truly, this is Will Anderson's greatest caper to date. Never before have him and Elizabeth been involved in so much danger.
Detroit Breakdown is highly recommended for fans of D.E. Johnson and fans of historical mysteries, especially ones based on classic horror literature such as Gaston Leroux’s The Phantom of the Opera. I will definitely be reading the next installment of Johnson’s wonderful series; if I miss it, I'll be the one suffering a breakdown. Thankfully, I won't be incarcerated inside the real Eloise Hospital, upon which this novel was based; it closed in 1984.