Wednesday, October 12, 2011

"Motor City Shakedown"

D.E. Johnson, a graduate of Central Michigan University, is a history buff who has been writing fiction since childhood. He comes by his interest in automotive history through his grandfather, who was the vice president of Checker Motors. Johnson lives with his family near Kalamazoo, Michigan.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Motor City Shakedown, and reported the following:
Page 69 excerpt:
It was the auburn- haired woman from the trial.

She wore a low- cut red silk dress that stopped above her ankles, with white button-top boots and a white, wide-brimmed hat. She kissed Sam on the cheek and took his arm. It was like watching a butterfly light on a piece of shit.

“Who’s that?” I said to Tony, gesturing toward the woman.

Tony glanced behind him. “Sammy’s girl. Why do you care?”

“Just curious.”

He turned to the driver and rattled off some quick Italian. The other man eyed me.

“What was that about?” I asked.

“I was just tellin’ him what to do wit’ you,” Tony said.

I stared at him.

He laughed. “Don’ worry.” He held my eyes. “At least not yet.”
I'd say this section of page 69 is pretty representative of Motor City Shakedown. The story is about a rich young man named Will Anderson getting inserted into the first mob war in Detroit, which took place in 1912-1913.

I've mostly held to the historical record about the Adamo-Gianolla war (other than the inclusion of a few fictional characters like Will), which was a bloody shotgun feud on the streets of Detroit's Little Italy. Dozens of men were shot and nine were killed, including a cop. The Detroit newspapers reported the war's progress virtually every day until November 1913, when the war was won with the shotgun murders of one of the gangs’ leaders. (I won't say which, since it's a big part of the book's climax.)

At this time, the Bernstein brothers, who in the not-too-distant future ran the Purple Gang, were just another teenage street gang, working with the Sicilians as it suited each side, mostly running errands. At the same time they were delving into the violence that would eventually mark them as the most dangerous gang in Detroit’s history (which is saying something), credited with as many as 500 murders. In Motor City Shakedown, Will brings them in to help him, little knowing he was going to get more than he bargained for.

It was particularly fun to stumble on new facts about the gang members while digging through the archives of the Detroit newspapers. That’s one of the beautiful things about writing historical fiction. The real people provide me with so much color it feels almost like reporting.

Detroit has been a fascinating city for well over a hundred years. (In fact, believe it or not, in the late 1800’s it was known as the “Paris of the West.”) In the early 20th Century, business was growing exponentially, and immigrants were flooding into the city to fill the jobs that were popping up everywhere. At the same time, poverty and crime were rampant, and the clash of the haves and the have-nots makes a rich backdrop for a story, particularly a gritty story like Motor City Shakedown.
Learn more about the book and author at D.E. Johnson's website and blog.

Check out the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue