Michigan author, D.E. Johnson’s debut mystery, Detroit Electric Scheme, will grab your attention with the opening line, and hold it until the final revelation. You’ll learn some automotive history on the side, whether you want to or not, because it’s just part of the book.
I actually had the privilege of attending a small group seminar with Dan (D.E.) Johnson, and after he talked with us about the process of getting a publishing contract, he offered the books at a significant discount. My budget for new books is low, but he had read us a good portion of the first chapter, and I was definitely hooked. I was not disappointed. In fact, I could hardly put it down, despite having work that I should have been doing, and finished it in three days.
The story is set in 1910, with a backdrop of the electric car industry. Detroit Electric is the name of a real company, and in the early 20th century it was not yet certain whether internal combustion engines or electrics were going to control the market. Johnson has used the names of some real people, such as William C. Anderson, the owner of Detroit Electric, and Edsel Ford. The protagonist is a fictional son of Anderson, Will, Jr.
The story starts with a bang as Will finds one of his friends crushed in the roof stamping machine for the automobiles they build. He had been called to the plant that evening by a phone call from the man who was now dead. Will knows that he’ll be the prime suspect and he runs when he hears someone coming. It’s the first of many mistakes he is to make. And yet, he’s an endearing sort of fellow, despite his flaws. His greatest failing is that he drinks too much.
Throughout the book Will is in and out of jail as he struggles to prove to the police that he is innocent. His former girlfriend, Elizabeth, is a key character as well. She had left Will and is currently engaged to the man who has just died in the press.
But how can he possibly convince anyone that he is not the murderer and is being framed?
Detroit Electric Scheme has big shoes to fill. It has to be historically accurate, work within the limits of police work and forensics of the time period, and be interesting. It meets all of these challenges and then some. Johnson manages to create a picture of a young man, raised in prosperity, who has a lot of growing up to do, and has made bad decisions, but is also likeable, and able to be redeemed.
In the meeting with Dan, he explained how the publisher, St. Martin’s Press (Minotaur Books division), verified all the historical facts he includes before allowing it to be printed. His own research had been meticulous, and few mistakes were found. You can count on the accuracy of anything or any place that is not fictional.
Detroit Electric Scheme is of the mystery genre, but there is more action and raw life (and death) than one sometimes encounters in classic mysteries. If you find some mysteries a bit too genteel to be believable, this book will be more to your liking. If you prefer the puzzle without the gore and seaminess, this might not be for you (although it doesn’t add blood and violence just for their own sake).
The sequel, Motor City Shakedown, is due out September 2011, and Johnson has a contract for two more books after that. I think there’s a good chance that D.E. Johnson may soon be on the best-seller list.
Available in hardback and Kindle versions. Full price for the hardcover is $24.99, but Amazon offers it at a significant discount and used copies sell for even less. The Kindle edition is $9.99.