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 one mayoral candidate, Andrew Green, wanted to discredit another mayoral candidate, "Honest Tom" Glinnan, and concocted an elaborate sting with the help of William Burns, the man called "America's Sherlock Holmes." They told City Council that the Wabash Railway Company wanted to have part of a street vacated so they could expand their freight warehouses. The Council was opposed to this and delayed the action. Mayor William Thompson and his hand-picked successor, Andrew Green, suspected the council was stalling in the hopes of obtaining bribes, so they enlisted the William Burns Detective Agency to investigate. (Green footed the eventual $10,000 bill.)
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, a man named Walter Brennan, 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 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--and offered a job by Green if he confessed--Glinnan did, 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 "Honest Tom," 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.) In the end, Andrew Green decided not to run for mayor, but he kept his rival out of office and (sort of) cleaned up city hall. Yay?