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The Detroit Electric Scheme: A Mystery (Detroit Mysteries) Hardcover – September 14, 2010

4.4 out of 5 stars 38 customer reviews
Book 1 of 4 in the Will Anderson Series

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Grief and pain dominate Johnson's downbeat debut, set in Detroit in 1910. When Will Anderson, who works for his father's electric car company, finds the body of John Cooper, who's engaged to Elizabeth, Will's former love, crushed by a hydraulic press in the factory's machining room one night, he flees in panic. Will realizes the circumstantial evidence, including blood on his clothes, is against him, and the cops would be happy to beat a confession out of a likely suspect. Will alerts Elizabeth that John has been murdered and she's in danger, but she spurns his offer of help. Beneath the veneer of neat, progressive Detroit, Will discovers corruption and brutality. Meanwhile, Will's own alcoholism doesn't make it easy for him to think through his difficulties. Real-life automotive pioneers like chirpy Edsel Ford and the bullying Dodge brothers provide lively walk-ons, but readers will struggle to empathize with the book's sad-sack hero.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* From the very beginning of this noir period piece, you just know nothing will turn out all right. Will Anderson’s father owns the electric-car factory where Will finds the body of a one-time friend and rival, John Cooper, crushed and mangled in a hydraulic press. Of course, Will freaks out and scrambles away, leaving clues that point the police right to him. The novel is set in 1910 Detroit, just as competition is heating up in the auto industry and labor unions are beginning to flex their muscle. That’s a tough world to navigate if, like Will, you’re a factory middle manager looking for answers. Will’s ex-girlfriend’s fiancé lies dead; she fears for her life but won’t see Will; none of his friends stick by him; and his father is fit to be tied by the scandal. As Will narrates the sordid details—the sex, the drugs, the hit men, the corruption, the double-crossing—the finger of blame points in all directions. 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. --Jen Baker

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Product Details

  • Series: Detroit Mysteries (Book 1)
  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Minotaur Books; First Edition edition (September 14, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312644566
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312644567
  • Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 1.2 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #454,197 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Luan Gaines HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on September 14, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Putative heir to Detroit Electric's leading electric automobile manufacturer in 1910, Will Anderson is in a world of hurt. Responding to a call that Elizabeth, his ex-fiancé, is in trouble, Will goes to the factory to meet with John Cooper, the new fiancé. What he finds is a mutilated, bloody corpse. Police sirens blaring, Will flees the scene, realizing he may well be the prime suspect. Soon enough, beat cops arrive at Will's apartment; he is handcuffed, subjected to a number of brutal interrogations, an angry Detective Riordan convinced this wastrel "swell" is guilty. Will's panic has also set him up for blackmail, but his daily consumption of "Old Tub" whiskey is the biggest threat to avoiding life in prison. Caught between efforts to breach Elizabeth's wealthy family's resistance to his help and the need to save his own skin, Will draws courage from the bottle, losing precious time in alcoholic oblivion.

Detroit is booming, the electric automobile market no match for Ford's gasoline-powered vehicles, but holding it's own in this great enterprise that includes the Dodge brothers, Edsel Ford and other industry luminaries. But there is a dark side to the city as well. The murdered Cooper was a strong arm for the Employer's Association of Detectives, engaged in union busting on behalf of corporate tycoons. Then there are the underworld connections, the crooks that thrive on the underbelly of big cities, where drugs and crime are rampant and the American dream takes on another connotation. Certainly, Will has reason to feel sorry for himself, guilt over disappointing his father and the broken relationship with Elizabeth driving his descent into drunkenness.
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Format: Hardcover
Man, what a ride! I was hooked from the opening page, and literally stayed up all night finishing this wonderfully crafted story. I even liked the protag, having done my own share of bumbling. The characters came off of the pages, with all their warts, and I felt like I had been dropped into location, with the vivid descriptions of the era.

Can't wait for the next book, keep it up!
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Format: Hardcover
D.E. Johnson, the author, knows what Detroit was like in the year 1910, when this book is set. He knows the muddy streets, sometimes blocked by the carcasses of horses; he knows the cornfields that grow next to apartment buildings; he knows the houses of the rich and the areas where the poor congregate. And it is enjoyable to read this setting. Johnson also knows the competition between auto makers at the time, when the industry was still trying to find the "right" direction: gasoline-driven cars or electric cars? There's a bit of humor and a lot of irony in the main character's observations about the future of the electric car.

Other than these observations, there is no humor and no irony in the main character, Will Anderson, the 22-year-old heir to Detroit Electric, which manufactures electrically-driven automobiles. Will finds a dead body at the beginning of the book, panics, and lies to the police. From that point on he does even more stupid things, getting himself into more and more trouble. He gets severely beaten by thugs and cops alike, at the end of every second or third chapter. This becomes boring. Will also drinks himself into stupors. Likewise boring and not sympathy-inducing. The woman who is Will's love interest is not realistically drawn, and he should be highly suspicious of the other woman, but he isn't. I found the ending unsatisfying for several reasons, chief among them that justice is not done and that I have no confidence Will will be any different.

This book has received excellent reviews. If you like noir or semi-noir, or if you're a fan of Patricia Highsmith (to whose novels this one has been compared), and/or if you're a fan of historical fiction, you might give this a try. Your determining factor should be: do you like a hero who keeps repeating his mistakes throughout the book? Some people do, some don't.
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Format: Hardcover
I had heard quite good things about this book, and while I'm not usually one to seek out "historical mysteries" (in this case, 1910), I am open-minded about them. With all the debate raging about global warming, gas prices, electric cars, and so forth, I thought the premise/setting of this book was fascinating: the early days of Detroit, when electric cars were the choice of upper-class women because electric cars didn't require the dangerous, unladylike cranking that gasoline engines required. Sitting where we are today, it was quite fascinating to watch the managers of Detroit Electric (cars) worry about which platform will ultimately win - gas or electric. Some prognosticators in the book predict the winner will be gasoline, because it's "so cheap."

The setting, too, was fascinating. In THE DETROIT ELECTRIC SCHEME, we see Detroit as a city of immigrants, poised for massive growth and success based on the auto industry; not the extremely troubled, shrinking city it is today. The author has done his research, and it shows. You can't fake affection for a city, and Johnson clearly has that.

The problems lie in the story, the characters, and the pacing - all those things I read mystery fiction for. The book started out slow and never really picked up its pace, though it did move a little more quickly in some areas than in others. And the mystery itself isn't very good or involving; I figured out the "big surprise" before the book was half over. The problem is the narrator, Will Anderson, alcoholic son of a car magnate, general miscreant, and overall Debbie Downer for no good reason.
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