Library Journal will be publishing this in their Sept. 1 issue. I especially loved this line: "Johnson’s spooky third series entry (after Motor City Shakedown) ensures its place among hot new historicals."
But Will, foolish? Say it ain't so!
Johnson, D.E. Detroit Breakdown:
A Mystery. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. Sept. 2012. c.352p. ISBN 9781250006622. $25.99. M
"Someone has taken the plot of Gaston Leroux’s Phantom of the Opera to heart and is terrorizing the denizens of Detroit’s Eloise Insane Asylum. Unexplained deaths are not being reported to the police, and no one believes the protesting patients. Elizabeth Hume is frantic to get her hospitalized cousin, Robert, out before any harm comes to him. So Will Anderson foolishly institutionalizes himself so that he can work undercover, while Elizabeth comes on board as a hospital volunteer. They must find Robert and nab the killer before the murderer catches up with Will.
VERDICT Johnson’s spooky third series entry (after Motor City Shakedown) ensures its place among hot new historicals. His unique take on Detroit in the early 20th century and its burgeoning automotive culture make this entry a perfect crossover selection for historical fiction buffs. The lead characters—chapters alternate between the two narrators—have a checkered and violent past that Johnson fills in nicely for new readers. Recommend for Stefanie Pintoff and Caleb Carr devotees."
There is still time to register for the Blood & Tea mystery writing conference in Ludington, MI on September 21 - 22. See the link here. This will be a very useful conference at an incredibly low price - only $150 if you register before the end of August!
What's better, there is going to be a very high faculty to student ratio, so you are sure to get individual attention. (And what's best of all, I'll be there!)
If you are a mystery/thriller/crime/suspense writer in Michigan or nearby, this will be a very worthwhile conference for you! And it doesn't hurt that it's in beautiful Ludington. Register now!
In the September 1st edition of Booklist, they are going to run the following review of Detroit Breakdown (Yay!):
"Building on his two previous titles set in the early 1900s (The Detroit Electric Scheme, 2010, and Motor City Shakedown, 2011), Johnson’s latest suspense novel finds maimed Will Anderson and his lover and former opiate addict, Elizabeth Hume, facing their personal nightmares as they track a strangler known as the Phantom.
The trail leads to Eloise Hospital, an asylum for the insane, the tubercular, and the inconvenient, where Elizabeth’s cousin, Robert, is a patient. After Robert is falsely accused of the Phantom’s latest murder, Will and Elizabeth hatch an elaborate plan to infiltrate the asylum, nab the Phantom, and release Robert from the “Hole” (solitary confinement). While exposing his characters to sadistic doctors, violent orderlies, and chaotic, frightening madness, Johnson ratchets up the tension as the killer repeatedly eludes capture.
The Phantom’s unmasking is such a shock that readers will wonder if Elizabeth and Will can ever recover. As suspenseful and twisted as Lehane’s Shutter Island (2003) and Lavalle’s The Devil in Silver (2012), this taut historical thriller is a definite winner."
Sweet article in the Detroit News, with their "Suspenseful Summer" reads. In addition to recommending new books by Gillian Flynn, James Lee Burke, Alexander McCall Smith, and others, they included Detroit Breakdown! (Read the rest of the article at the URL below.) Here's what they said:
"Summer book lists usually proliferate when the lilacs are still in bloom, giving readers a chance to pile up books for the Fourth of July and early summer getaways. But for many of us, it's the dog days of summer when there is finally time to rack up some serious reading hours. . . . Right now, fans of the mystery/thriller genre have a bumper crop of new (and newer) books to consider. . . .
"Readers who like Caleb Carr-style historical mysteries only have a few weeks to wait for Michigan author D.E. Johnson's ("The Detroit Electric Scheme) latest, "Detroit Breakdown: A Mystery" (Minotaur Books), out in September. Set in Detroit in 1912, the mystery involves a series of "opera ghost" murders (the Phantom of the Opera figures heavily) at the Eloise Hospital, Wayne County's insane asylum. One such murder involves the cousin of a young Detroiter, Elizabeth Hume, whose fiance, Will, has himself committed to Eloise in order to investigate. Will is already mixed up with some gangsters by the name of Bernstein, and other historic figures are in the mix — Edsel Ford makes a brief appearance, giving Will a reference."
From The Detroit News: http://www.detroitnews.com/article/20120731/ENT05/207310305#ixzz22IhdxO3V
Great news today! Publishers Weekly has given Detroit Breakdown a starred review (defined as "Outstanding in its genre").
Here's the review:
D.E. Johnson. Minotaur, $25.99 (352p) ISBN 978-1-250-00662-2
"Set in 1912, Johnson’s excellent third mystery featuring auto mechanic Will Anderson (after 2011’s Motor City Shakedown) effectively employs parallel first-person narratives to advance an investigation into a creepy murder.
Elizabeth Hume, an affluent woman with some skeletons in her closet, gets a late-night phone call that sends her and more-than-friend Will racing to Eloise Hospital, a sinister insane asylum in Wayne County, Mich. The anonymous caller has claimed that an inmate there, Robert Clarke, who’s a cousin of Elizabeth, has murdered a fellow patient and is threatening suicide.
Elizabeth deftly defuses the situation when she arrives, but can’t persuade those in charge of Robert’s innocence. To clear his name, Elizabeth and Will both go undercover at the hospital—she as a volunteer, he as an amnesiac admitted for treatment. The authorities discount reports of other victims and that “the Opera Ghost” (aka “the Phantom”) was responsible.
Johnson makes the most of the spooky setting. Agent: Alex Glass, Trident Media Group. (Sept.)"
In perhaps the most disturbing research I've done lately, I was reading an Arcadia Publishing book called Detroit's Historic Hotels and Restaurants (which has been a good source of both for my new book).
Until I came to this: Under a picture of the Hotel Yorba, a transient hotel within spittin' distance of the Ambassador Bridge, still a Detroit fixture, the narration says this:
"'The Yorba' was the title of a song by the White Stripes, a British music group, in 2001."
Okay. That's not even the right name for the song. She should have stuck with the name of the hotel.
But the White Stripes? A British music group? Wow, now there's some research gone terribly wrong. Jack and Meg are as Detroit as the Tigers, Ford Motors, and crack. Of course, I could be the only person who listens to the White Stripes to ever read this book. (But if you are interested in old Detroit, there's some pretty cool stuff in it.)
July 25th, 2012 will be a major anniversary for Detroit.
July 25th marks the centennial anniversary of the arrests of seventeen Detroit aldermen and the secretary of the council committee in a fascinating, yet oh, so familiar, bribery "sting."
It seems the Wabash Railway Company wanted to have part of a street vacated so they could expand their freight warehouses. The City Council was opposed to this and delayed the action. Mayor William Thompson suspected the council was stalling in the hopes of obtaining bribes, so he enlisted the William Burns Detective Agency to investigate.
Burns was already considered "America's Sherlock Holmes" because he had, over the past few years, cracked a number of cases involving dynamiters, corrupt politicians, grifters, thieves, and murderers, seemingly with no useful clues. By 1912, the public had been made aware that Burns' incredible success came from his secret use of the dictograph, a device originally designed as a business intercom.
Dictographs had become so popular for eavesdropping that a model called a "Detective Dictograph" was being manufactured. The whole works fit into a case no larger than what people used to carry their "Pocket Kodaks" (cameras). Inside the case were a microphone, a long pair of wires, and a small amplifier connected to a telephone receiver. The microphone would be planted in a room and wired back to the amplifier in another room. With a detective dictograph, one of Burns' men would monitor and transcribe any incriminating conversations.
By 1912, Burns had moved, whenever possible, from a dictation-style dictograph to a "telegraphone," a high-quality recording device most often used for office dictation, which made convictions a snap. The best telegraphone at the time recorded with electromagnets onto wires that ran from one reel to another, similar to more recent tape recorders. The sound quality was good enough that voices were immediately recognizable, and made it impossible for defense attorneys to claim that someone was impersonating their client. The telegraphone would also record up to thirty minutes on a wire, which was much longer than could be accomplished on a record or cylinder recorder.
Burns had one of his detectives play the role of a Wabash representative, and he did an excellent job, forcing the aldermen to each come to his office and make their demands, which ranged from $200 to $1,000. Burns himself was there to arrest Thomas Glinnan, the president of the council, as he walked out of the "Wabash" office with $1,000 in his pocket. Faced with the telegraphonic evidence, Glinnan confessed, and the sting concluded as a complete success.
Or did it? The District Attorney dropped the cases against all but nine of the aldermen, those against whom he had the most airtight cases. The most solid of all, that of Tom Glinnan, was bound over for the first trial. Glinnan's defense delayed for two years before the case finally went to trial. The defense claimed entrapment, Burns and Brennan were excoriated on the stand, and the jury was out all of 45 minutes before they came back with a not-guilty verdict. The DA dropped all the rest of the cases.
This is a case in which the mayor of Detroit concocted a sting operation detailed enough to use as a plot line in a movie. In doing so, he ended the political careers of a number of corrupt men, including Tom Glinnan. Huzzah! (as they might have said at the time.)
Though I have no evidence of any scheme on Thompson's part, I wonder just how pure his motives were.
"Honest Tom" Glinnan, the president of the council who was caught with his hand in the cookie jar, was in the midst of campaigning for a higher political office, which would be decided in the November election.
Glinnan was running against Thompson, for mayor.
On Thursday I had the most extraordinary experience. I spoke to about 400 students at Saginaw Swan Valley High School in an assembly, and then had about 50 attendees in a writing workshop on “point of view.” The fact that I survived with my pride intact might be the first clue that the school is something outside the ordinary, but there is so much more.
First of all, this school has a competitive writing team. No fooling.
But before I get to that, the assembly. I talked about following your dreams—to identify your passion, figure out a way to embrace that passion, and make it a key part of your life. So many people (like me) settle for trying to figure out how to make a living rather than making a life. After softening the audience up with a very inspirational video, I told them my story and gave them my advice for how they can make their lives what they want them to be. You could have heard a pin drop. The feedback I got afterwards is that the students took my story to heart.
My adult life is a pretty good cautionary tale. I drifted along in the current of life for thirty years, being miserable in the business world, while thinking I was a writer. I came very close to never finding out if I could really write or if it was just something that I was better at than most of the kids I went to school with. Through most of my life I had no motivation other than getting through the day. Finally I took charge of my life, took a big chance, and got what I’d wanted since I was a kid—I found out I was a writer, and better than that, an author.
This school treated me like a rock star! At Swan Valley (unlike most everywhere else), being an author is a big deal. The kids wanted to have their pictures taken with me. They fought over getting to escort me. And, best of all (and for the second time in the last two years), I had a high school student tell me I had changed her life. It doesn’t get much better than that.
On to what is different about their school, starting with the administration. I could not have been more impressed with Mat McRae, the principal, or Kay Wejrowski, the Library Media Specialist. They are passionate about literacy and writing, and it really shows. They run a variety of literacy programs, and, based on what I saw, the reading/writing culture must run all the way down to kindergarten.
In 2010 Swan Valley won a Citation of Excellence from the Library of Michigan. Last year, they were one of six winners nationally of the Follett Literacy Challenge. And, as I said, they have a competitive writing team.
Outside the context of our writing-challenged society, I would say that competing in writing is sort of missing the point. If we’re competing against anyone as writers, it should be against ourselves in our journey to become better at what we do. HOWEVER, inside the context, I think it’s an amazing idea. Schools need to find extraordinary ideas to help students embrace writing. It’s a big deal at Swan Valley that their writing team won last year’s conference championship in writing.
Writing … is a big deal. Who knew?
I was excited to learn this weekend that Motor City Shakedown was a winner of the 2012 Michigan Notable Book award. It's a great honor to be included in a list with Steve Hamilton (one of the best mystery writers anywhere) and Bonnie Jo Campbell (one of the best writers anywhere). This makes me two for two - The Detroit Electric Scheme won the award in 2011.
Copy and paste this web address to see the complete list:
I'm a little over a week into the first rewrite of Detroit Breakdown, the book I'm working on for a Fall 2012 release, and I'm having a great deal of fun. An awful lot of writers tell me how much they hate rewriting. For that matter, I've heard a lot of them say they hate writing, which is really puzzling to me.
There's a podcast called the Nerdist Writers Series, which is a TV writers panel discussion about writing, with different writers week to week. I find it interesting to listen to, both for the writers' stories and to learn about TV writing. But I can't tell you how many of those people talk about how excruciatingly painful it is for them to write.
Reminds me of the old joke about the guy who goes to the doctor and says, "Doc, it hurts when I do this."
The doctor says, "Then don't do that."
Which is what I would say to people who find writing painful.
But, anyway, rewriting - God help me, I enjoy it. For a first draft, you chase all the rabbits down their little holes, looking for the ones that will best contribute to the story. Along the way you pick up characters who are interesting and fun (or crazy or dangerous or stupid) who ultimately end up being unnecessary to the story.
Don't get me wrong. It's really fun when you're humming along on the first draft. At times the story seems to write itself, the characters come up with all these really cool lines, and you wake up early just to get at that computer. First drafts can be a blast.
Right up until you hit a wall. How am I going to get from here to there? Or why didn't I realize this character was going to have to do this thing that he wouldn't really do? Of course, the next day when the answer pops into your head, it's back to fun and games.
The rewrite is when you jettison all the extra baggage and keep only the stuff that best moves the story forward.
You discover you can consolidate scenes, that two things could be done more effectively in half as many pages. You figure out ways to give readers clues to the resolution of the story - and just as important - you figure out ways to draw the reader's attention away from that clue you just fed them, and pay attention to something else that's not going to help them solve the mystery. You make your characters consistent. You solve plot problems. You fix the book, changing it from a big sprawling mess to a tightly-woven, suspenseful roller-coaster ride.
And that's fun.