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Book Review: The Detroit Electric Scheme by D.E. Johnson (2/5)

18 Sep

A woman in my book club recommended this book to me a few years ago. I trusted her opinion in books so I put it on my Goodreads TBR and am only now getting around to it. Unfortunately, it was not a book for me. I’ll explain why.

Cover image via Goodreads

The Detroit Electric Scheme (Will Anderson #1) by D.E. Johnson

Summary from Goodreads:

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.

I think I am so critical of this book because it’s a genre I love, historical fiction. And I really love when historical fiction is done well. I did not think that was the case with this book. I felt the historical setting was too detailed; it started to detract from the story. Descriptions of ads for items that were new then and common now, repeated use of the streetcars, and emphasis on inflation were rampant in this story. It got old fast. As a historical fiction writer, there’s a lot of research you do into the time period that never makes it to the page. Johnson seemed eager to cram as much of his research as possible into this book. I also had a lot of problems with characterization. The reader is supposed to love Elizabeth and there’s no good reason. We’re also supposed to believe Wesley is as well-meaning and friendly as he appears but he has no motivation to do so. Will comes off as a bad judge of character and the ending emphasizes the point.

I didn’t believe any of the characters. I’m sure the historical characters (the Dodge brothers, Edsel Ford, Adamo, etc.) were based in recounts of their personalities, but the side characters like John, Judge Hume, Elizabeth, Wesley, and Sapphira were flat. I didn’t like any of them and that was a problem with Wesley and Elizabeth, who I should have liked. Wesley was far too eager to be friends with Will despite Will treating him poorly in the beginning. Wesley seemed to have a death wish with how often he got involved in Will’s schemes which ended with one or both of them injured each time. I honestly don’t know how there can be three more books in this series with how physically damaged Will must be. Elizabeth had no redeeming qualities and was needy beyond reason. The only positive thing about her character is that she used to write Will little love notes. That’s all we get. It wasn’t enough for me.

I can’t say I liked any of the characters. Their decisions seemed illogical and I couldn’t sympathize with any of them. The only time I felt something was when I was squeamish during gory scenes. That’s about it.

D.E. Johnson
Image via The Big Thrill

The one redeeming thing about this book is that it kept moving. There was a lot of action and it kept me coming back to it, even when I wanted to put it down. It went by quickly.

I felt a lot of parts of this book were unnecessary and it became tiresome. Sapphira, some of the times Will was in jail, and most of Elizabeth’s story were unnecessary. I would have liked to see the plot streamlined and the characters better flushed out.


Mysteries are not normally books with strong themes and I think this one falls into that norm. Besides rich people having problems like the rest of us, there’s not much of a moral message in Will’s story. I guess not being an alcoholic is a bit of advice.

Writer’s Takeaway: Reading this book has made me very aware of how much I stress the historical setting in my book. While it should be obvious, it shouldn’t be overwhelming. Things that are time-period-specific may need some explanation, but a lot of things haven’t changed as much as we think. I’ll need to trust my reader to figure a few things out without beating them over the head with it.

This book fell really flat for me. Two out of Five stars.

Until next time, write on.

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