D.E. Johnson had received a lot of good and great reviews for his first book, “The Detroit Electric Scheme”, and it continues with the follow up novel “Motor City Shakedown”. You won’t find disagreement from me.

I have not read book one and I’m always a bit uncomfortable entering a series, fearing I’ll be missing some important background, but it wasn’t the case here. Johnson intersperses just enough information from the previous case and its characters throughout the new plotline that you’re pulled into it right from the start.

It’s 1911, in Detroit, and a war is raging between Italian gangs. You add to the mix some well-organised, street-smart kids who run errands and do the odd jobs for everyone -at the right price-, corrupt police, workers’ unions getting hungrier and angrier, the burgeoning car industry, and an unlikely partnership between three people in need of saving their families, themselves and their reputations.   

The story starts with Will Anderson looking to avenge the murder of his friend Wesley at the hands of crime boss Vito Adamo, in “The Detroit Electric Scheme”. At the same time, Will tries to regain Elizabeth Hume’s trust and her love. Soon, their lives are threatened by the Gianolla gang who wants $50,000 or to have the ‘Teamsters Union’ into ‘Detroit Electric’, the car company owned by Will’s father. Will and Elizabeth need help and they find an ally in one of the rare uncorrupted cops in Detroit, Detective Thomas Riordan. Never knowing whom to trust completely, the trio forges small alliances to help them fight against the threats that keep coming from different directions. They even strike a deal with Adamo who'd like to get rid of the Gianollas. But it gets more complicated when other people and gangs become involved.

One of the great qualities of Johnson’s writing is in character development: at the beginning of the book, you know that Will and Elizabeth have gone through a lot in the previous story, but they still don’t seem well-equipped to face the new threats to their lives. As the story unfolds and as Will and Elizabeth go through fights, beatings, shootings and even the gruesome murder of a friend, they slowly adapt to this world of gangsterism and dangers. They go through various emotions, from simple stress to fear to complete shock. Johnson has created two very believable characters who are affected by everything they experience, as any of us would. Pushed closer together by life-threatening events, their courtship rapidly develops into a more mature relationship built upon trust and love; during their ordeal, Will tells Elizabeth: “Hard to imagine that only a few years ago we were a couple of rich kids without a worry in the world.” A little later, it’s Elizabeth who assesses their relationship: “(…) Neither of us will be happy again without the other.” She laughed quietly. “We’re both ruined for anyone else anyway.”

The plot of “Motor City Shakedown” contains many twists and even more shady characters. You'll also meet some historical personages like Edsel Ford, Thomas Edison, and others. The city of Detroit comes alive through its streets, its people and some historical landmarks. But mostly, you believe it all and get immersed in it through the lives of its characters; proofs that D. E. Johnson knows how tell a good story. You will enjoy every page of it. And if you liked Dennis Lehane’s Kenzie & Gennaro series in 1990’s Boston, you’ll love Will & Lizzie in 1910’s Detroit. This is historical crime at its best.

October 2011

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