DETROIT BREAKDOWN, another book in the Will Anderson series, will be availble September 4.  This is the review of the second book in the series which is set in the early years of the twentieth century.  Will Anderson witnesses the beginning of two of the biggest moments in American history: the century in which America emerges as a world power and a financial juggernaut and the birth of the automotive industry.  The internal combustion engine is the catalyst that creates the America that stretches from sea to shining sea.

Posted on October 26, 2011

MOTOR CITY SHAKEDOWN is the type of book I really enjoy: history and mystery blended so well that it is difficult to separate fact from fiction.  It had an extra hook as well.  The time period is 1911 and the city is Detroit, a time and a place I know very little about.  The author remedied my ignorance by offering plenty of information on both.

Will Anderson is the son of William Anderson, owner of Detroit Electric, a company on par with those other companies in the city that make vehicles using the internal combustion engine.  In the early 1900′s, there is real competition between the supporters of each and the competition is not played as a gentleman’s game.  Will is a survivor and an avenger.  His best friend,  Wesley McRae, was murdered in a particularly horrifying manner and Will lost the use of his hand, and some fingers, when he tried to save himself and his former fiancee, Elizabeth Hume, from being killed in another diabolical way.  These events led Will to develop an addiction to morphine, something easily purchased from a pharmacist, and about which no one seems to have much concern.

Will is certain that crime boss, Vito Adamo, had something to do with Wesley’s murder.  He wants to talk to Adamo and he figures the best way to make that happen is to have a talk with Carlo Moretti, Adamo’s driver.  Will has been following Moretti and on this hot summer night he makes up his mind that he won’t put off the conversation again.  Moretti has a routine that involves some time with a prostitute before he returns to Adamo’s bar.  On this night, the woman leaves in a hurry and Moretti doesn’t leave at all.  When Will goes to investigate, he finds Moretti dead, unmistakably a victim of homicide.  He knows he will be the first suspect and, when a woman identifies him as the man coming from Moretti’s room,  he is proved correct.

There is constant action in MOTOR CITY SHAKEDOWN, so much action that to tell a little is to tell too much.  Detroit is a city on the move.  The infant automotive industry has the power to push it to the top of American cities.  The money the industry brings to Detroit has the weight to pull it into the sewers.  The fascinating thing about the story and the historical background is how much the city has not changed in one hundred years. Drug addiction was rampant, crossed socio-economic lines, and gave rise to gangs competing for the lucrative trade.  The Teamsters Union was becoming a force to be reckoned with and that made it an attractive target for organized crime.  Crime families had roots in the villages of the “old country” and ethnicities dominated various parts of the city, each brutalizing their own people and any other people who challenged them.  The families of the automotive industry gave their names to their companies, fought to be on the top of the heap, and, in many cases, sold their souls for success.  It is interesting that Edsel Ford, whose name became a joke after a car was named for him, was actually a decent and warm human being, proving that on occasion the apple is smart enough to roll as far away from the tree as momentum will carry it.

The America of the early 1900′s was a place where all sorts of maladies were blamed on the “fast” life styles created by the speed of transportation, communication, and invention and where those maladies were cured by electroshock therapy.  How much creative genius was destroyed through medical “miracles”?

The author introduced me to “Taylorism”,  a “System of scientific management advocated by Fred W. Taylor. In Taylor’s view, the task of factory management was to determine the best way for the worker to do the job, to provide the proper tools and training, and to provide incentives for good performance. He broke each job down into its individual motions, analyzed these to determine which were essential, and timed the workers with a stopwatch. With unnecessary motion eliminated, the worker, following a machinelike routine, became far more productive.”  Eliminate the part about providing incentives for good performance and we have the “assembly line” made famous by Henry Ford.

MOTOR CITY SHAKEDOWN upended all my views about life at the turn of the century.  The Detroit of 1911 is the Detroit of Prohibition and, in its worst aspects, the Detroit of 2011.  The motor city has been taken down by the disappearance of the auto industry and the poverty continues.

This book is a must read for anyone interested in cars or American history.

I received a copy of this book from TLC Book Tours, a virtual tour posting a different review each day.

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