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“The Detroit Electric Scheme”

John Day

John Day

Posted Jan 24, 2011

A murder mystery set in Detroit in 1910 sounded interesting, though I will admit that at first glance I thought the Detroit Electric in the title of D.E. Johnson’s novel (“The Detroit Electric Scheme”) referred to skullduggery at the local power company versus the real-life Anderson Carriage Company that built electric vehicles back in the day.

Someone has been murdered at the factory, and the finger of suspicion points to Will Anderson, the fictional son of real life auto pioneer William C. Anderson. With help from his father, a neighbor across the hall, and Edsel Ford, Will discovers high-level bribery, contends with dope-dealing mobsters and labor strife, and aids a close friend in dire need. Along the way to the novel’s surprise ending, when he is not in jail, Will also meets John and Horace Dodge, breaks the previous record for the range of an electric vehicle, and takes charge of the company’s exhibit at the Detroit auto show. In-between he makes several questionable decisions, but learns from his mistakes – as should we all.

Johnson combines real people, including Anderson, Edsel Ford, the Dodge brothers, Henry Leland, mob boss Vito Adamo, Byron Carter, and Charles Kettering, and at least one den of iniquity (the “Bucket of Blood”) with fictional characters.  Many of the street names were familiar, but I would have benefited from a map of old Detroit to follow the action. Someone more familiar with the city would appreciate the local color, including the streetcars and horse-drawn wagons.

Automotive technology is treated in passing since Will is not an engineer, but Johnson details the record-setting ride past turn-of-the-century Detroit skyscrapers, Edison light towers, Bennett Park (then the home of the Detroit Tigers), and on to Grosse Pointe and Belle Isle. He paints a colorful picture of the early days of the automotive industry and the grand/not so grand city of Detroit. And he’s writing a sequel.

John and Horace Dodge, Electric Vehicles, The Detroit Electric Scheme, Bennett Park, Charles Kettering, Anderson Carriage Company, William C. Anderson, Detroit Tigers, Edsel Ford, D.E. Johnson, Detroit Electric

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John DayJohn Day recently launched John Day’s Automotive Electronics News ( to provide news and feature coverage of the automotive electronics industry. Earlier he wrote for Auto Electronics magazine, Auto E-lectronics, EE Times, and other business and engineering publications. Visit John Day

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