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Detroit Breakdown (Detroit Mysteries) Paperback – May 9, 2016
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Praise for D. E. Johnson:
Motor City Shakedown
“The scenes of Motor City, riding high on the industrial wave, are extraordinarily vivid.”--The New York Times Book Review
“Johnson’s vibrant follow-up to The Detroit Electric Scheme delivers razor-sharp depictions of the Motor City. Johnson brings the turbulence and rampant corruption of the era to life through his flawed yet tenacious lead in this worthy successor to his debut.”--Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“If Dennis Lehane was from Detroit, this is the book he’d write. The Motor City was once the most important city in the world, and D. E. Johnson does a masterful job at making that time and place come alive on the page. Motor City Shakedown is as hard and tough and downright noir as anything I’ve read in recent memory, but it’s got a beating heart, too.”--Steve Hamilton, Edgar Award–winning author of The Lock Artist
“Johnson’s . . . clever weaving of history with intriguing characters makes for an exciting read.”--Kirkus Reviews
The Detroit Electric Scheme
“The surprise ending leaves you gasping and shaking your head at Johnson’s masterful plotting and the menacing tension that forces otherwise good characters to behave despicably. Every bit as powerful as Patricia Highsmith’s Ripley series, this gem of a debut showcases an author to watch very closely.”--Booklist (starred review)
“An empathetic hero and an abundance of interesting historical detail should keep readers engaged.”--Kirkus Reviews
“Full of nonstop action, plot twists and turns, and great insight into the early history of the U.S. car industry, this debut is part coming-of-age tale and part historical mystery. Essential for historical fans.”--Library Journal
“Absorbing.”--The Seattle Times
About the Author
D. E. Johnson, a graduate of Central Michigan University, is a history buff who has been writing fiction since childhood. He comes by his interest in automotive history through his grandfather, who was the vice president of Checker Motors. Johnson is also the author of The Detroit Electric Scheme and Motor City Shakedown and lives with his family near Kalamazoo, Michigan.
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Top Customer Reviews
There is much to like about this historical mystery. I loved all the odd and unusual tidbits woven into the story. Due to the fact the author regularly mentions previous history between the two main characters into play, I recommend also reading the previous two books in the trilogy. Otherwise, this is a fast-paced, succinctly written, mystery is unpredictable, creative, well-researched, and definitely keep you on the edge of your seat.
A history buff, D.E. Johnson's family background in the automotive industry is put to good use in this rattling good yarn about mayhem and murder in a real life Detroit asylum. Eloise Insane Asylum was founded in 1839 and operated continuously until 1984. The name, Eloise Hospital or Sanatorium, not adopted until 1911, it had two main buildings, one was used to treat the mentally ill and the other for the treatment and housing of patients suffering from tuberculosis. Not, you would think, an ideal combination but one which no doubt suited the finances of the County, as after entering either facility, patients (mostly poor or abandoned) were not expected to last long; the old saying: Kill two birds with one stone seems appropriate.
The story begins as Elizabeth Hume, a good gal to know if you're in a tight corner, and Will Anderson, her likeable but somewhat rash ex-fiancé, field a call from Eloise Asylum - a patient has died and Elizabeth's cousin, Robert will more than likely be charged with murder. Robert's incarceration at Eloise, a family secret, he has not had a visit from his family for ten years. Will and Elizabeth jump in her Baker Electric car and motor post haste to the asylum. Distraught at Robert's wafer thin, terrified appearance, Elizabeth, unwilling to believe he is capable of murder, determines to find out who the murderer is and in so doing, set Robert free from what can only be described as a hell-hole.
Will, anxious to help, is sure Elizabeth is not telling him the whole truth about her relationship with Robert. She's not - Robert is her older brother and Elizabeth is afraid that she may also be touched by the Hume family madness. Will suggests they request help from Detective Riordan, an officer of the law, who has helped them on previous occasions. The three meet and brainstorm ways to extricate Robert from the threat of a murder charge. Will, eager to do anything that will reinstate his engagement with Elizabeth, comes up with the idea of having himself committed to the asylum to investigate and find the real killer. This seemed like a pretty dopey idea to me as the Eloise medical staff and on-site police force were noticeably weird, but hey, the things a guy will do for love.
Elizabeth decides to volunteer at Eloise to snoop around and also help Will if trouble strikes. Meanwhile, admitted as John Doe, an amnesia sufferer, Will finds trouble wherever he goes - rancid food, crackpot medical treatments and sadistic police are just a few of the difficulties he faces. He's made progress though; an inmate tells him there have been other deaths and rumour has it they are down to the Phantom, a dude who roams the asylum at night offing inmates with his weapon of choice; a Punjab lasso. Scary stuff, indeed.
Elizabeth and Riordan follow a lead to the town of Kalamazoo and Elizabeth cracks the case - she knows who the Phantom is and Will is at risk... he has to be warned. But can Elizabeth get back to Detroit in time to save him?
The end is a cracker - Will races through tunnels under Eloise, almost drowning as the tunnels fill with water, only to come face to face with the Phantom. Is there a happy ending? Does the Phantom get what's coming to him? You will have to read Detroit Breakdown to find out. The whole family, teens to grandma, will enjoy this well written, exciting and hugely entertaining mystery.
Elizabeth is shocked to learn that her cousin, a patient in the asylum, is being accused of the murders of several of his fellow patients. Each of the victims has been strangled by a "Punjab lasso," the weapon-of-choice of the Phantom of the Opera, himself - and Robert has been found leaning over the body of the latest to suffer that fate. Elizabeth is certain that her cousin is not a murderer, and she is determined to prove his innocence. And Will, wanting desperately to prove his love for Elizabeth, decides to investigate the murders from the inside - by having himself committed to the asylum as a mental patient.
Elizabeth, with the help of Detroit Police Detective Riordan, also plays a key role in the investigation. Not only does she penetrate the walls of the asylum as a volunteer worker, she and the detective follow all leads pointing outside Eloise. But when Will's scheme is exposed, and he finds himself at the mercy of a doctor who has everything to lose if exposed, the dual investigations become a race against the clock.
Author Dan Johnson, a native of northern Michigan, is both an amateur historian and the grandson of a former Vice President of Checker Motors. He combines his love of history and his keen appreciation for early automotive pioneers to create a noirish setting for 1912 Detroit. The city's streets are filled with competing horse-drawn buggies, electric cars, and gasoline-powered vehicles - while its alleys are often filled with huge, stinking mounds of horse manure and garbage. Street crime is rampant, cops are as crooked as those they chase, and insane asylums are places where the inmates are often no crazier than the guards who abuse them on a regular basis.
One might be tempted to say that not all that much has changed in Detroit in the past 100 years, that today's problems are very much like those of 1912 Detroit. What Johnson makes clear, however, is that it was much more difficult to be poor in 1912 Detroit than it is in the Detroit of today. Then, the wealthy lived a spectacular lifestyle while everyone else, the vast majority of the city's population, struggled just to keep their families fed and clothed. Those were heady days for those who had the money to enjoy the beautiful restaurants, theaters, parks, and other luxuries the city offered. Johnson vividly captures both lifestyles in Detroit Breakdown and shows what might happen when those two worlds even briefly intersected.
Will Anderson and Elizabeth Hume (even Detective Riordan, for that matter) already share a lot of history by the time Detroit Breakdown begins. Although Johnson makes a valiant effort to bring new readers up to speed, I suspect that those having read the first two books in the series will have a much better appreciation of characters and motivations than readers jumping in at book-three as I did. That is not to say that Detroit Breakdown does not work well as a standalone novel, because it does - only that the experience is likely to be a much richer one for readers more intimately familiar with the events of The Detroit Electric Scheme and Motor City Shakedown.