January 24, 2013

Book Review: Detroit Breakdown

As D.E. Johnson's Detroit Breakdown begins, Elizabeth Hume is abruptly called to the Eloise Insane Asylum, and her friend--and former fiancĂ©--Will Anderson drives her there in his electric Model T (it's 1912, after all). When they arrive at the forbidding asylum, Elizabeth is told that her cousin, Robert Clarke, a patient there, is suspected of murder--but a distraught Robert swears he didn't kill anyone, that "the Phantom" did it. The hospital administrator scornfully dismisses this as the ravings of a lunatic who has recently read The Phantom of the Opera, but Elizabeth is convinced her cousin is incapable of such violence and attempts to intercede.
Though she is forced to leave without her cousin, Elizabeth begins investigating as well as she can from the outside. Will, however, takes a riskier route--going undercover as an amnesiac. Incarcerated in Eloise, Will endures dreadful conditions as the psychologists experiment on him. But primitive treatments for mental illness such as "radiation therapy" are not all Will has to suffer; he's also at risk from fellow patients--and from the rumored Phantom.

Johnson brings early 20th-century Detroit vibrantly to life with his descriptions of the terrible traffic, fashions of the era and Eloise's medical treatments. There are frequent references to Will and Elizabeth's earlier adventures (in The Detroit Electric Scheme and Motor City Shakedown); but this story can be fully enjoyed independently of the other two. Fans of historical mysteries and turn-of-the-century Americana will love Detroit Breakdown.

I thought it was funny how even at the beginning of the automobile era everyone spent their time complaining about how bad traffic was!

Rating: 3 out of 5
Should I recommend this to my grandma? Sure, as long as she can handle electro-shock therapy...

This review was originally written for Shelf Awareness. The cover image is an affiliate link.