The Detroit Electric Scheme [NOOK Book]

Overview

Will Anderson is a drunk, heartbroken over the breakup with his fiancée, Elizabeth. He’s barely kept his job at his father’s company---Detroit Electric, 1910’s leading electric automobile manufacturer. Late one night, Elizabeth’s new fiancé and Will’s one-time friend, John Cooper, asks Will to meet him at the car factory. He finds Cooper dead, crushed in a huge hydraulic roof press. Surprised by the police, Will panics and runs, leaving behind his cap and automobile, ...

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The Detroit Electric Scheme

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Overview

Will Anderson is a drunk, heartbroken over the breakup with his fiancée, Elizabeth. He’s barely kept his job at his father’s company---Detroit Electric, 1910’s leading electric automobile manufacturer. Late one night, Elizabeth’s new fiancé and Will’s one-time friend, John Cooper, asks Will to meet him at the car factory. He finds Cooper dead, crushed in a huge hydraulic roof press. Surprised by the police, Will panics and runs, leaving behind his cap and automobile, and buries his blood-spattered clothing in a garbage can.

What follows is a fast-paced, detail-filled ride through early-1900s Detroit, involving murder, blackmail, organized crime, the development of a wonderful friendship, and the inside story on early electric automobiles. Through it all, Will learns that clearing himself of the crime he was framed for is only the beginning. To survive, and for his loved ones to survive, he must also become a man.

The Detroit Electric Scheme is populated with fascinating characters, both real and fictional, from a then-flourishing Detroit: The Dodge brothers and Edsel Ford come to life, interacting with denizens of the sordid underbelly of the Motor City, such as Vito Adamo, Detroit’s first Mob boss, and Big Boy, the bouncer at a saloon so notorious the newspapers called it “The Bucket of Blood.” This expertly plotted debut delivers with great research, wonderfully flawed yet likable characters, and a shattering climax.

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Editorial Reviews

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. (Sept.)
From the Publisher

"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

"...absorbing." -- The Seattle Times

"...an action-packed historical mystery propelled forward by intriguing characters, thought-provoking moral conundrums, and a gripping plot. Johnson is so skilled a writer that the race for supremacy between the manufacturers of electric and gasoline-powered automobiles is every bit as exciting as the chase through the streets of Detroit to find a ruthless killer. This remarkable debut novel will give you a thrilling ride, and leave you wanting more." --Historical Novels Review (Editor's Choice)

"D.E. Johnson’s terrific debut brilliantly captures the dangerous underbelly of 1910 Detroit’s fast-growing automobile industry.  A well-plotted mystery filled with memorable characters and taut suspense, The Detroit Electric Scheme makes for a compelling read." --Stefanie Pintoff, Edgar-award-winning author of In the Shadow of Gotham and A Curtain Falls

“Johnson makes a stunning debut, taking us to a time and place so very different from our own—and yet so very much the same.  Will Anderson must fight his demons—both internal and external—in order to save his life and the woman he loves from someone intent on destroying them both.  Follow him through the dark and dangerous streets of a very different Detroit than the one we know today as he tries to find a mysterious killer before becoming a victim himself."--Victoria Thompson, author of Murder on Lexington Avenue

The Detroit Electric Scheme is thoroughly enjoyable.  What Johnson has accomplished is nearly magical: He has marvelously created the old Detroit, made it come to life in a way that is recognizable, and yet is totally new.  This is a completely convincing, believable historical place, populated by attractive and fascinating characters.  More than that, Johnson has a done a magnificent job of presenting the early days of a great industry without falling into the trap of merely giving a history lesson. The Detroit Electric Scheme is a phenomenal debut.”--Jon A. Jackson, author of Badger Games and The Diehard

 "D.E. Johnson's impeccable research drives this crackling tale of murder set in Detroit's infant auto industry. Like the electric Victoria that Will Anderson drives, The Detroit Electric Scheme jolts you into a dangerous world of suspense and intrigue." -- Rebecca Cantrell, award-winning author of A Trace of Smoke

 “The Detroit Electric Scheme is a jaunt through turn of the century Detroit and a window into the launch of the automotive industry. Swiftly paced and peopled with fascinating, darkly colorful characters, Johnson treats the reader to a compelling mystery laced with vivid historical detail. It's a historical mystery in high gear!-- Ann Stamos, author of Bitter Tide

 "The Detroit Electric Scheme is a Les Miserables for the American Experience:  Part Noir, part a tale of obsession and persecution, and all historically sound, it explores a forgotten yet crucial chapter in the development of the Industrial Revolution, and ultimately the American Century.  If you liked Dennis Lehane’s The Given Day, you'll waste no time devouring The Detroit Electric Scheme." -- Loren D. Estleman, author of Alone, The Branch and the Scaffold and Frames

 "A good mystery novel must combine intriguing characters and a page-turning plot. A truly fine mystery novel, in addition to those elements, will also feature strong writing and a setting that makes the reader wonder why no one has set a mystery against such a fascinating background before. Dan Johnson's Electric blends all those elements into an impressive debut novel that makes me eager for the next one." --Albert A. Bell, Jr., author of The Blood of Caesar

"...a page-turning odyssey through the Detroit underworld...an entertaining and briskly told tale..." -- Hour Detroit magazine

 

Kirkus Reviews

In 1910 Detroit, a guilty conscience turns an innocent man into the prime suspect in a grisly murder.

Will Anderson, the volatile narrator who manages his father's electric-automobile operation, makes a gruesome discovery when he arrives one November night at the Anderson Carriage Company. John Cooper, a union activist and not incidentally the fiancé of Will's former lover Elizabeth, has been crushed to death in a huge hydraulic press. Not thinking clearly, Will flees the scene and makes feeble attempts to cover his tracks, disposing of his bloody clothes and asking an employee to lie about the location of his car, an Anderson Victoria. Nevertheless, police detective Riordan seems to focus on Will with an unsettling intensity, and he receives an anonymous note from a would-be blackmailer. Problems with alcohol do nothing to improve his resolve or his credibility with police. His friend Wesley McRae, an overeager music salesman, agrees to loan Will the blackmail money and enlists the Doyles, a trio of toughs comprising a father and two sons, to help make the payment. The plan goes seriously awry, killing all three Doyles and landing Wesley in the hospital. When Will finally comes face to face with Elizabeth again, the circumstances are horrific, and his determination to protect her, even more than himself, propels him to solve the murder and bring the killer to justice.

Johnson's debut novel is unsteadily plotted, but an empathetic hero and an abundance of interesting historical detail should keep readers engaged.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781429940283
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 9/14/2010
  • Series: Detroit Mysteries , #1
  • Sold by: Macmillan
  • Format: eBook
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 174,472
  • File size: 348 KB

Meet the Author

D. E. Johnson 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 lives near Kalamazoo, Michigan, with his family and is working on the sequel to The Detroit Electric Scheme. Visit his Web site at www.dejohnsonauthor.com.

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Read an Excerpt


CHAPTER ONE
November 1910
The first part of the body I saw was half of the left arm. It hung off the side of the hydraulic roof press, hazy in the dim yellow light of the gas lamps. I walked farther into the machining room, cutting through shadows of pulleys and concrete pillars. Odd flecks of matter on other machines sparkled as I moved. The factory was silent other than a slow drip, like a leaking faucet.
Closer now—a black coat sleeve dangled from the steel plates of the press, pinched just below the elbow. A bright crimson cuff encircled a red wrist. A red hand sagged, palm out, five dark droplets stretching from the ends of red fingers, then letting go one after another and plunging into the pool two feet below. The room smelled of a butcher shop—viscera and blood.
I crept past the drilling machines and looked down the aisle. The lower half of a large man hung from the front of the press, trousers shiny black above dark-stained stockings and garters. His black button-top shoes, heels pressed against the machine, leaked still more droplets into the dark pool only a few inches below them. The body was upright and complete to the waist. It ended there, where the upper and lower plates of the press met, as if the rest of the man had simply disappeared.
My first thought was of a terrible accident, but the Anderson Carriage Company’s machine operators didn’t wear suits, and no one would have walked away from this at six o’clock. I covered my nose with my handkerchief, crept nearer the puddle, and looked inside the trousers. The torso was huge, easily fifty percent larger than mine. The tops of the hipbones were sheared off, the rest a mess of blood and tissue.
Acid burned the back of my throat. I tasted bile and bourbon, and spun away from the body just in time to spray vomit across a stack of sheet aluminum. Hands on knees, I retched until my stomach was empty. When I could look again, I wiped my mouth and edged to the other side of the machine. The right arm hung in the same position as the left, but a gold ring encircled the beefy fourth finger of this hand. I reached out for the dripping ring finger and faltered, but steeled myself, took hold of the slippery wrist, and raised the arm. It was heavy but moved freely, like the arm of a huge marionette.
I held the hand up near my face and ran my thumb over the ring. UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN glinted out between thin crimson lines, with FOOTBALL and 1908 engraved on the sides. Now I saw a black monogram on the sleeve, almost obscured by blood—J.A.C.
John Anthony Cooper.
I let go of the wrist and jumped back. The arm thumped against the side of the press, and blood sloshed around my shoes. I backed away, reaching behind me for obstacles, not able to take my eyes off the ring. My heel and then my back hit the wall of the old battery room. I stopped, perhaps twenty feet away from the press, absently wiping my hands on my trousers. The factory was still.
This was insane. Cooper had called me at eleven, demanding I meet him in the machining room at the factory. I told him to leave me alone. We hadn’t spoken in months, and I had no intention of beginning now. I was afraid Elizabeth had finally told him what I’d done, what she’d done. But he said she was in trouble and needed my help. Against my better judgment, I came.
From outside the room, a scuffle of boots on the concrete floor broke the silence. I whirled around, looking at the open pair of four-foot-wide doors that connected the machining room to the rest of the factory. Yellow light bounced up and down in a manic dance on the stack of pallets outside the room. The footsteps got louder, echoing like an advancing army.
I panicked. I ran to the back of the room and jumped onto one of the workbenches, threw open the window, and dove headfirst onto the macadam below.
A shrill whistle cut through the air, and a shout rang out behind me. “Stop! Police!”
I hit the ground hard, but scrambled to my feet and hurtled across the test track to the field behind. With only threads of moonlight to guide my way, I crashed into the tall grass and immediately came down on a rock. I tumbled to the ground. Bolts of pain shot up from my ankle.
Behind me, shoes hit pavement with a percussive scrape followed by a thump and a curse. I jumped up again and ran, as best I could. Whistles screeched, men shouted, and the light of lanterns bobbed off the trees and grass. Surging adrenaline masked the pain in my ankle. I raced alongside the tracks past the Detroit Foundry Company and over Grand Boulevard, instinctively heading south toward my apartment, passing row houses, factories, and ware houses. The sound of the whistles faded, and the lights gradually dimmed until I could see them no longer.
I dropped to the ground at every sound, every passing streetcar and wagon. When I reached East Ferry Street, I crouched behind a tree. Clouds of steam huffed from my mouth as I peeked out, looking and listening for pursuers. I reached for the bill of my cap to pull it down farther onto my forehead, but it wasn’t there. Now I saw that my hand was stained with dark splotches. I squatted and ran both hands through the frost-covered grass, the palms and the backs, over and over, erasing John Cooper’s blood. My hands finally clean, I stood again and leaned against the tree, trying to think.
The machining room’s concrete floor was covered with my bloody footprints. My touring cap was missing. The car I had signed out from the Detroit Electric garage less than an hour ago sat—by itself—at the curb next to my father’s automobile factory, where the man who was going to marry the woman I loved lay crushed between two blocks of steel.
 
I straightened my clothing and limped the last six blocks to Woodward, trying to appear at home in front of the mansions lining East Ferry. From there I took a streetcar the last mile to the corner near the pretentious apartment building on Peterboro where I had lived for the last year and a half. The building loomed like a toy castle, gray granite with towers and turrets, but only three stories high. I crept up to the front door, digging into my pockets for the key.
I cursed. In my haste to meet Cooper, I’d forgotten to bring it with me. I hurried around to the back door, gripped the knob, and jerked up on it while giving a hard twist to the right. The door popped open. I silently thanked my landlord for his laziness and let myself in, treading softly on the stairs, hoping to reach my apartment unnoticed.
No sooner had I stepped into the upper hallway than the door to my right burst open. Wesley McRae leaned out, wearing black trousers with suspenders, an undershirt, and a derby. His long blond hair stuck out in tufts. “Not like you to just be toddling in at one in the morning, Will. On a Wednesday night yet.” He arched his eyebrows. “Care for a nightcap?”
“No.” He’d asked before. I’d always declined—politely. But now I couldn’t stop shivering, and the bourbon in my kitchen was calling me.
“Just one?” He held up a half-full bottle of Usher’s Scotch whiskey. “It’ll warm you up.”
I opened my apartment door. Without turning around, I said, “No. Thanks.” I flipped on the lights and swung the door closed, then hobbled to the kitchen and grabbed one of the bottles of Old Tub from behind the flour and sugar in an upper cabinet. I took a long drink, and another.
It wasn’t fair. I slammed my fist onto the kitchen countertop. A sob escaped my throat. I tried to choke down the next one, but the thought of Elizabeth grieving John Cooper opened the way for the events of this night to catch up to me. I fell to the kitchen floor with my head in my hands, crying for Cooper, crying for Elizabeth, but mostly, I’m ashamed to admit, crying for myself.
 
Some time later, I stood and leaned against the icebox, lighting a cigarette with shaking hands. I picked up the bottle again but hesitated. My mind wasn’t functioning very well as it was, and I needed to think. When I set down the bottle, I noticed a dark smudge on the white linoleum floor. I bent down and ran my finger over it, coming up with a crimson smear. Shocked, I looked at my black oxfords. The shiny finish was dulled and streaked. Dark spatters blemished the cuffs of my brown tweed trousers. My mind again filled with images of Cooper’s torso and legs, his hands, his ring, his blood.
I pried off my shoes with my toes and dropped them in the garbage pail. My trousers, stockings, and garters followed them. I threw on some clean clothes, hiding my features with the flipped-up lapels of my tan duster and a black derby pulled down around my eyes, then grabbed the trash bin and hurried to the door. There I stopped and listened for a moment. It was quiet.
I began to open the door but stopped short, remembering that the key to the Victoria was still in the pocket of my trousers. I fished them out of the trash, pulled out the key, and dropped it in my pocket before opening the door and peeking into the hall. Seeing no one, I crept down the stairs with the trash bin and slipped outside to the muddy alley behind the house next door. Almost no light shone here. I could just make out the vague rounded shapes of the metal garbage cans lining the alley, but I had no trouble finding my way. It was a late-night trip I’d made many times before, though this was the first time I was carrying anything other than empty bourbon bottles.
I pushed aside some of the contents in the first can and emptied my trash bin into it. A small animal bolted away, startling me. My arms jerked back, and the metal bin hit the side of the can with a clang. I stood motionless for a moment, listening for a response. When I was as sure as I could be that no one had heard, I covered my clothing with the other trash and retraced my steps to my apartment. Along the way I examined the carpet on the landing and hallway, and the finish of the maple stairs. There were no stains I could see.
I slipped back into my apartment and scrubbed the bloodstain off the kitchen floor. My mind raced. I couldn’t go after the Victoria or my cap even though they were certain to lead to me. Being seen near the factory was too big a risk.
If the cap was in the machining room I could say I’d left it there earlier. But the Victoria would seal my fate. The garage’s record book would show I had picked up the automobile at 11:30 P.M., thirty minutes before the police found it next to the building that contained John Cooper’s freshly crushed body.
I could report the automobile stolen, but with it sitting next to the factory no one would believe me. I couldn’t very well say anyone else had left it there. No one but me had driven the Victoria for months. I had to change the record book, to make it feasible I had left the automobile there earlier. To do that, I would need the cooperation of Ben Carr, the night supervisor. It was my only chance.
I again donned the hat and coat, and limped back to the Woodward Line streetcar stop. After what seemed an interminable wait, the southbound car came in. I dropped a nickel into the fare box and sat on the scarred wooden bench seat in the back row. Scattered about were eight other people, most of them asleep. The car started up with a jerk and began to rattle down the track. I shivered and snugged the duster around me. Twice, the conductor walked down the aisle, giving a gentle kick to the feet of his regulars, waking them at their stops. My head felt heavy and dull. Raucous curses and laughter poured from a few saloons on the way, but most of the city was quiet, a huge mausoleum in the cold night.
When I disembarked in the business district, I hurried to the Detroit Electric garage, leaning into the frigid Canadian wind whistling in from across the river. I passed our tiny showroom with a few automobiles lurking in the dark, and skirted the brick pillar that supported the right side of the red iron archway overhanging the main entrance and garage doors.
I took a deep breath and rapped on the window in the door. A few moments later, Ben Carr peeked through the glass. He was a small man of about fifty, with elfin features and a sharp chin, dressed in the chargers’ gray-striped coveralls.
He opened the door and stood back. “Mr. Anderson, sir.” He touched the brim of his cap, and a worried look crossed his face. “You’re out mighty late. You didn’t have a problem with the Victoria, did you?”
I stepped inside, wincing as I came down on my injured ankle, and closed the door behind me. “No, but I wanted to talk to you about that.” The garage buzzed with the sound of stored electricity and smelled of ozone, like the fresh-air scent of an approaching rainstorm.
He glanced down at my feet with a little frown. “You okay, Mr. Anderson?”
I looked around the shop. Dozens of shiny blue, green, and maroon Detroit Electrics lined the room, mostly the coachlike coupés and broughams, with a few open-bodied runabouts and Victorias sprinkled in. No one else was in sight. I put a hand on his shoulder. “I’m fine, Ben. I just need a favor.” My voice trembled.
“Sure, anything, Mr. Anderson.”
“Come on, Ben, I’m Will.”
“Okay, uh, Will.” The name that had come so easily from his mouth when I was a child now stuck in the back of his throat.
I pulled him into a charging bay between a pair of coupés. “Who else knows I took the Vicky out tonight?”
He squinted while he thought. “Charlie was washing cars up here, but,” Ben tapped the side of his head, “he don’t notice nothing. The other two were charging in the back. So, probably nobody.”
“Okay, good. See, the reason I took it out was that I couldn’t sleep. I’ve been worried about the mileage test.”
Ben shrugged and nodded.
“Here’s the thing. I drove down to the factory, figuring I’d take it out on the test track and then perhaps I’d be able to sleep. But I had just gotten there when a police car came barreling in. I left the Vicky and went home before they saw me.” I toed the scuffed wooden floor and bowed my head. “See, I haven’t exactly been doing a bang-up job at work, and I thought if I got mixed up in this my father would have finally had enough. I’m afraid if he finds out I was there, he’ll fire me.” I glanced up at him. “You can cover for me, can’t you?”
“What do you want me to do?”
“No one from the day shift was in early yesterday, were they?”
He shook his head.
“Then all I need you to do is change the pickup time from 11:30 P.M. to 5:30 A.M. It’ll just look like I took out the car in the morning. Nobody will know the difference, right?”
He rubbed the back of his neck. “I guess.”
“So you’ll do it?”
He hesitated a moment before nodding his head.
“Thanks, Ben.” I clapped him on the back. “I won’t forget this.”
When I limped out the door, he was looking down at the floor, his forehead creased in thought.
I finally got home around three o’clock. Leaving the lights off, I grabbed one of the bottles of bourbon from the kitchen and hobbled to the sofa in the parlor. I sat sideways with my feet up and took a long drink. The bottle shook against my lips. My ankle was swollen and throbbing, and I knew I should ice it, but it seemed just too much effort to chip off the ice.
I lit a cigarette and lay back, trying to still the tremors in my hands. In the dark, all I could see was half of John Cooper’s body dangling from the maw of the gargantuan press, one swallow away from disappearing altogether.
 
Excerpted from The Detroit Electric Scheme by D. E. Johnson.
Copyright © 2010 by D. E. Johnson.
Published in September 2010 by Minotaur Books.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.
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First Chapter

The DETROIT ELECTRIC SCHEME


By D. E. Johnson

Minotaur Books

Copyright © 2010 D. E. Johnson
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-312-64456-7


Chapter One

November 1910

The first part of the body I saw was half of the left arm. It hung off the side of the hydraulic roof press, hazy in the dim yellow light of the gas lamps. I walked farther into the machining room, cutting through shadows of pulleys and concrete pillars. Odd flecks of matter on other machines sparkled as I moved. The factory was silent other than a slow drip, like a leaking faucet.

Closer now-a black coat sleeve dangled from the steel plates of the press, pinched just below the elbow. A bright crimson cuff encircled a red wrist. A red hand sagged, palm out, five dark droplets stretching from the ends of red fingers, then letting go one after another and plunging into the pool two feet below. The room smelled of a butcher shop-viscera and blood.

I crept past the drilling machines and looked down the aisle. The lower half of a large man hung from the front of the press, trousers shiny black above dark- stained stockings and garters. His black button-top shoes, heels pressed against the machine, leaked still more droplets into the dark pool only a few inches below them. The body was upright and complete to the waist. It ended there, where the upper and lower plates of the press met, as if the rest of the man had simply disappeared.

My first thought was of a terrible accident, but the Anderson Carriage Company's machine operators didn't wear suits, and no one would have walked away from this at six o'clock. I covered my nose with my handkerchief, crept nearer the puddle, and looked inside the trousers. The torso was huge, easily fifty percent larger than mine. The tops of the hipbones were sheared off, the rest a mess of blood and tissue.

Acid burned the back of my throat. I tasted bile and bourbon, and spun away from the body just in time to spray vomit across a stack of sheet aluminum. Hands on knees, I retched until my stomach was empty. When I could look again, I wiped my mouth and edged to the other side of the machine. The right arm hung in the same position as the left, but a gold ring encircled the beefy fourth finger of this hand. I reached out for the dripping ring finger and faltered, but steeled myself, took hold of the slippery wrist, and raised the arm. It was heavy but moved freely, like the arm of a huge marionette.

I held the hand up near my face and ran my thumb over the ring. UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN glinted out between thin crimson lines, with football and 1908 engraved on the sides. Now I saw a black monogram on the sleeve, almost obscured by blood-J.A.C.

John Anthony Cooper.

I let go of the wrist and jumped back. The arm thumped against the side of the press, and blood sloshed around my shoes. I backed away, reaching behind me for obstacles, not able to take my eyes off the ring. My heel and then my back hit the wall of the old battery room. I stopped, perhaps twenty feet away from the press, absently wiping my hands on my trousers. The factory was still.

This was insane. Cooper had called me at eleven, demanding I meet him in the machining room at the factory. I told him to leave me alone. We hadn't spoken in months, and I had no intention of beginning now. I was afraid Elizabeth had finally told him what I'd done, what she'd done. But he said she was in trouble and needed my help. Against my better judgment, I came.

From outside the room, a scuffle of boots on the concrete floor broke the silence. I whirled around, looking at the open pair of four-foot-wide doors that connected the machining room to the rest of the factory. Yellow light bounced up and down in a manic dance on the stack of pallets outside the room. The footsteps got louder, echoing like an advancing army.

I panicked. I ran to the back of the room and jumped onto one of the workbenches, threw open the window, and dove headfirst onto the macadam below.

A shrill whistle cut through the air, and a shout rang out behind me. "Stop! Police!"

I hit the ground hard, but scrambled to my feet and hurtled across the test track to the field behind. With only threads of moonlight to guide my way, I crashed into the tall grass and immediately came down on a rock. I tumbled to the ground. Bolts of pain shot up from my ankle.

Behind me, shoes hit pavement with a percussive scrape followed by a thump and a curse. I jumped up again and ran, as best I could. Whistles screeched, men shouted, and the light of lanterns bobbed off the trees and grass. Surging adrenaline masked the pain in my ankle. I raced alongside the tracks past the Detroit Foundry Company and over Grand Boulevard, instinctively heading south toward my apartment, passing row houses, factories, and ware houses. The sound of the whistles faded, and the lights gradually dimmed until I could see them no longer.

I dropped to the ground at every sound, every passing streetcar and wagon. When I reached East Ferry Street, I crouched behind a tree. Clouds of steam huff ed from my mouth as I peeked out, looking and listening for pursuers. I reached for the bill of my cap to pull it down farther onto my forehead, but it wasn't there. Now I saw that my hand was stained with dark splotches. I squatted and ran both hands through the frost-covered grass, the palms and the backs, over and over, erasing John Cooper's blood. My hands finally clean, I stood again and leaned against the tree, trying to think.

The machining room's concrete floor was covered with my bloody footprints. My touring cap was missing. The car I had signed out from the Detroit Electric garage less than an hour ago sat-by itself-at the curb next to my father's automobile factory, where the man who was going to marry the woman I loved lay crushed between two blocks of steel.

* * *

I straightened my clothing and limped the last six blocks to Woodward, trying to appear at home in front of the mansions lining East Ferry. From there I took a streetcar the last mile to the corner near the pretentious apartment building on Peterboro where I had lived for the last year and a half. The building loomed like a toy castle, gray granite with towers and turrets, but only three stories high. I crept up to the front door, digging into my pockets for the key.

I cursed. In my haste to meet Cooper, I'd forgotten to bring it with me. I hurried around to the back door, gripped the knob, and jerked up on it while giving a hard twist to the right. The door popped open. I silently thanked my landlord for his laziness and let myself in, treading softly on the stairs, hoping to reach my apartment unnoticed.

No sooner had I stepped into the upper hallway than the door to my right burst open. Wesley McRae leaned out, wearing black trousers with suspenders, an undershirt, and a derby. His long blond hair stuck out in tufts. "Not like you to just be toddling in at one in the morning, Will. On a Wednesday night yet." He arched his eyebrows. "Care for a nightcap?"

"No." He'd asked before. I'd always declined- politely. But now I couldn't stop shivering, and the bourbon in my kitchen was calling me.

"Just one?" He held up a half- full bottle of Usher's Scotch whiskey. "It'll warm you up."

I opened my apartment door. Without turning around, I said, "No. Thanks." I flipped on the lights and swung the door closed, then hobbled to the kitchen and grabbed one of the bottles of Old Tub from behind the fl our and sugar in an upper cabinet. I took a long drink, and another.

It wasn't fair. I slammed my fist onto the kitchen countertop. A sob escaped my throat. I tried to choke down the next one, but the thought of Elizabeth grieving John Cooper opened the way for the events of this night to catch up to me. I fell to the kitchen floor with my head in my hands, crying for Cooper, crying for Elizabeth, but mostly, I'm ashamed to admit, crying for myself.

* * *

Some time later, I stood and leaned against the icebox, lighting a cigarette with shaking hands. I picked up the bottle again but hesitated. My mind wasn't functioning very well as it was, and I needed to think. When I set down the bottle, I noticed a dark smudge on the white linoleum floor. I bent down and ran my finger over it, coming up with a crimson smear. Shocked, I looked at my black oxfords. The shiny finish was dulled and streaked. Dark spatters blemished the cuff s of my brown tweed trousers. My mind again filled with images of Cooper's torso and legs, his hands, his ring, his blood.

I pried off my shoes with my toes and dropped them in the garbage pail. My trousers, stockings, and garters followed them. I threw on some clean clothes, hiding my features with the flipped-up lapels of my tan duster and a black derby pulled down around my eyes, then grabbed the trash bin and hurried to the door. There I stopped and listened for a moment. It was quiet.

I began to open the door but stopped short, remembering that the key to the Victoria was still in the pocket of my trousers. I fished them out of the trash, pulled out the key, and dropped it in my pocket before opening the door and peeking into the hall. Seeing no one, I crept down the stairs with the trash bin and slipped outside to the muddy alley behind the house next door. Almost no light shone here. I could just make out the vague rounded shapes of the metal garbage cans lining the alley, but I had no trouble finding my way. It was a late-night trip I'd made many times before, though this was the first time I was carrying anything other than empty bourbon bottles.

I pushed aside some of the contents in the first can and emptied my trash bin into it. A small animal bolted away, startling me. My arms jerked back, and the metal bin hit the side of the can with a clang. I stood motionless for a moment, listening for a response. When I was as sure as I could be that no one had heard, I covered my clothing with the other trash and retraced my steps to my apartment. Along the way I examined the carpet on the landing and hallway, and the finish of the maple stairs. There were no stains I could see.

I slipped back into my apartment and scrubbed the bloodstain off my kitchen floor. My mind raced. I couldn't go after the Victoria or my cap even though they were certain to lead to me. Being seen near the factory was too big a risk.

If the cap was in the machining room I could say I'd left it there earlier. But the Victoria would seal my fate. The garage's record book would show I had picked up the automobile at 11:30 p.m., thirty minutes before the police found it next to the building that contained John Cooper's freshly crushed body.

I could report the automobile stolen, but with it sitting next to the factory no one would believe me. I couldn't very well say anyone else had left it there. No one but me had driven the Victoria for months. I had to change the record book, to make it feasible I had left the automobile there earlier. To do that, I would need the cooperation of Ben Carr, the night supervisor. It was my only chance.

I again donned the hat and coat, and limped back to the Woodward Line streetcar stop. After what seemed an interminable wait, the southbound car came in. I dropped a nickel into the fare box and sat on the scarred wooden bench seat in the back row. Scattered about were eight other people, most of them asleep. The car started up with a jerk and began to rattle down the track. I shivered and snugged the duster around me. Twice, the conductor walked down the aisle, giving a gentle kick to the feet of his regulars, waking them at their stops. My head felt heavy and dull. Raucous curses and laughter poured from a few saloons on the way, but most of the city was quiet, a huge mausoleum in the cold night.

When I disembarked in the business district, I hurried to the Detroit Electric garage, leaning into the frigid Canadian wind whistling in from across the river. I passed our tiny showroom with a few automobiles lurking in the dark, and skirted the brick pillar that supported the right side of the red iron archway overhanging the main entrance and garage doors.

I took a deep breath and rapped on the window in the door. A few moments later, Ben Carr peeked through the glass. He was a small man of about fifty, with elfin features and a sharp chin, dressed in the chargers' gray-striped coveralls.

He opened the door and stood back. "Mr. Anderson, sir." He touched the brim of his cap, and a worried look crossed his face. "You're out mighty late. You didn't have a problem with the Victoria, did you?"

I stepped inside, wincing as I came down on my injured ankle, and closed the door behind me. "No, but I wanted to talk to you about that." The garage buzzed with the sound of stored electricity and smelled of ozone, like the fresh- air scent of an approaching rainstorm.

He glanced down at my feet with a little frown. "You okay, Mr. Anderson?"

I looked around the shop. Dozens of shiny blue, green, and maroon Detroit Electrics lined the room, mostly the coachlike coupés and broughams, with a few open- bodied runabouts and Victorias sprinkled in. No one else was in sight. I put a hand on his shoulder. "I'm fine, Ben. I just need a favor." My voice trembled.

"Sure, anything, Mr. Anderson."

"Come on, Ben, I'm Will."

"Okay, uh, Will." The name that had come so easily from his mouth when I was a child now stuck in the back of his throat.

I pulled him into a charging bay between a pair of coupés. "Who else knows I took the Vicky out to night?"

He squinted while he thought. "Charlie was washing cars up here, but," Ben tapped the side of his head, "he don't notice nothing. The other two were charging in the back. So, probably nobody."

"Okay, good. See, the reason I took it out was that I couldn't sleep. I've been worried about the mileage test."

Ben shrugged and nodded.

"Here's the thing. I drove down to the factory, figuring I'd take it out on the test track and then perhaps I'd be able to sleep. But I had just gotten there when a police car came barreling in. I left the Vicky and went home before they saw me." I toed the scuff ed wooden floor and bowed my head. "See, I haven't exactly been doing a bang-up job at work, and I thought if I got mixed up in this my father would have finally had enough. I'm afraid if he finds out I was there, he'll fire me." I glanced up at him. "You can cover for me, can't you?"

"What do you want me to do?"

"No one from the day shift was in early yesterday, were they?"

He shook his head.

"Then all I need you to do is change the pickup time from 11:30 p.m. to 5:30 a.m. It'll just look like I took out the car in the morning. Nobody will know the difference, right?"

He rubbed the back of his neck. "I guess."

"So you'll do it?"

He hesitated a moment before nodding his head.

"Thanks, Ben." I clapped him on the back. "I won't forget this."

When I limped out the door, he was looking down at the floor, his forehead creased in thought.

I finally got home around three o'clock. Leaving the lights off, I grabbed one of the bottles of bourbon from the kitchen and hobbled to the sofa in the parlor. I sat sideways with my feet up and took a long drink. The bottle shook against my lips. My ankle was swollen and throbbing, and I knew I should ice it, but it seemed just too much effort to chip off the ice.

I lit a cigarette and lay back, trying to still the tremors in my hands. In the dark, all I could see was half of John Cooper's body dangling from the maw of the gargantuan press, one swallow away from disappearing altogether.

Chapter Two

I was startled upright by loud pounding on my front door. The bottle of bourbon fell onto the wood floor with a thunk and rolled away, glug-glug-glugging as it emptied. The room was dark, and it took me a moment to orient myself. My ankle throbbed. The horror of the night flooded back. I swung my legs off the sofa, closed my eyes, and leaned forward, cradling my head in my hands.

The pounding continued, a rhythmic thump that got louder and louder. I pushed myself up from the sofa and limped to the door, each step accompanied by a grunt at the pain in my ankle. I bent and looked into the peephole.

My father's secretary, R. W. Wilkinson, in a gray homburg and winter coat, was beating on my door with his fist, his mouth in a tight grimace, his full beard and mustaches shuddering with the effort. It was frightening behavior from the neat, compact, and nearly unflappable man who had worked for my father since we moved to Detroit in 1895.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from The DETROIT ELECTRIC SCHEME by D. E. Johnson Copyright © 2010 by D. E. Johnson. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 10 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 10 Customer Reviews
  • Posted August 8, 2011

    I am excited for the next volume!!

    Hello, I'm not one much for writing reviews or swallowing a new book a week as some. I came across this one and was interested in the cover. A fan of history and autos and the like. I felt as though I was reading two books in one. The first an upper society murder mystery and the second a history about early American automobiles. In the end I think I would have read them both with equal excite. I am very looking forward to the next book!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 25, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    A fabulous historical amateur sleuth mystery

    In 1910 Detroit, Will Anderson works for his father's electric car company. In the machining room, Will finds the corpse of John Cooper, who was crushed by a hydraulic press. Recognizing the deceased as the man engaged to his former lover Elizabeth, and panicking, a frightened Will flees the factory as the circumstantial evidence will hang him even without Detroit cops beating a confession from him.

    Will informs Elizabeth that someone murdered John and he fears she could be next. He offers to keep her safe, but she refuses. As Will conducts an inquiry far from the spotlights, he finds cruel corruption as the cornerstone of the city; that is when he does not stop for a drink to dull the haze.

    The Detroit Electric Scheme is a fabulous historical amateur sleuth that showcases the underbelly of the Motor City at a time of optimism when American companies made Michigan the capital of the fledgling auto industry. Real persona including some of the founding fathers add a sense of realism as does Will's alcoholism which makes his investigation off kilter due the application of fuzzy logic. Although readers will feel some compassion for the lead with his plight that also is tempered by his self inflicting wounds as he is not a likable character. Still the audience will enjoy this fine early twentieth century mystery as where there's a Will there's a way.

    Harriet Klausner

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 23, 2011

    I enjoyed it!

    I thoroughly enjoyed this read. I was taken back to an era I don't get to visit often. For a first book, this author did a great job!

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  • Posted September 22, 2011

    2 Stars

    The book starts out very interesting and keeps you wanting to read. As you go further you begin shaking your head and wanting to kill someone yourself. The historical aspects are pretty good...but the characters are annoying as hell. Repeating idiot moves throughout the book. Selfish. Plain stupid.

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  • Posted March 27, 2011

    Outstanding Murder/Mystery!

    I absolutely loved this book! I have never been much of a reader because of my work schedule and my lack of patience but this book intrigued me because of my love for cars and mysteries. I could not put this book down! The characters were interesting and believable. The main character, Will Anderson, was sort of a pathetic drunk yet I found myself rooting for him to get out of the terrible mess he was in. It is obvious the author carefully researched the time period and the car industry. I found it fascinating. The murder mystery was complex but not confusing. I was caught by complete surprise at the end of the story as to who the killer was. I can't wait for Johnson's next book to be available. I highly recommend The Detroit Electric Scheme.

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  • Posted March 9, 2011

    This book will keep you guessing until the end!

    Dan Johnson's excellent murder mystery thriller is expertly woven into the fledgling automotive industry centered in Detroit. The year is 1910 and Will Anderson, heir to the Anderson Carriage Company, finds his former friend cut in half by a hydraulic roof press. He was supposed to meet John Cooper, now his ex-girlfriend Elizabeth's fiancé, at his father's plant. His former friend wanted to speak to Will concerning Elizabeth's welfare. To his horror, John Cooper is the murdered man under the press. This begins Will's frantic search for the killer through both the rich and seedy sides of Detroit. All the while, Will is being chased as the prime suspect by a brutal Irish detective, named Riordan. Both Will and Elizabeth have a dark secret that most people don't know, which has precipitated Will's drinking problem. Once accused of the murder, Will is persona non grata in Detroit's nouveau riche automobile society. Yet, he is befriended by two unlikely characters. One is young Edsel Ford, a college student, and the other is Will's apartment neighbor, Wesley McRae, who is a fighting musician. The chameleon changing color of suspects makes the read fast paced along with the ever-present bullying of Will and his friend by the Dodge brothers. One surprising thing Dan Johnson brings out in his history-based mystery thriller is that the Anderson Carriage Company has manufactured an electric car, which gets 211 miles to the charge. Thomas Edison has developed a long-life battery that is used in the Anderson Carriage Company's electric car (we need another Thomas Edison today). The reader won't want to put this book down and will be shockingly surprised at the very end when the real murder is revealed. Hopefully the readers will see a sequel of the trials and tribulations of Will Anderson. Jack Holt

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  • Posted February 18, 2011

    Couldn't put it down - A Must Read!!

    This extraordinary tale combines all the tense elements of a mystery with captivating historical information. Not really being a car buff, I was completely taken in by all the historical details of the auto industry and its' colorful characters including Edsel Ford and the Dodge brothers. The story is fast paced,keeping you guessing and very anxious to get to the ending; at the same time not wanting it to end. Although the main character, Will Anderson, has many personal flaws, I was thoroughly rooting for him in the end. In a genre crowded with talented writers, this book is entertaining and enthralling leaving me anxiously awaiting Dan Johnson's next book!!

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  • Posted December 31, 2010

    Gripping story. Well written.

    This is one of the few books that I've read that i couldn't put down. The Author kept me up until 1:00 am! I highly recommend it. You won't regret it.

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  • Posted October 31, 2010

    You've got to read this book!!!

    D.E. Johnson's debut novel, The Detroit Electric Scheme, is an absolutely exhilarating ride through Detroit in the early 1900s. The main character, Will, gets caught up in quite a twisted situation. With the help of his good friends, he fights to find his way out of it. The way Johnson intertwines this fictional mystery into a real historical setting is breathtaking. The play between the fictional and non-fictional characters is completely believeable, and Johnson's descriptions of Detroit are so vivid you will see the beauty of what the city was 100 years ago.

    This novel has something for everyone. From the very first line, I was hooked and couldn't put it down. The scintillating plot, the rich character development, the beautiful descriptions of Detroit in the early 1900s, and the rich history of the booming automobile business all come together to make a fantastic story. You will want to read more when you finish this book, I guarantee it!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 10, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

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