In 1910 Detroit, a guilty conscience turns an innocent man into the prime suspect in a grisly murder.
Will Anderson, the volatile narrator who manages his father's electric-automobile operation, makes a gruesome discovery when he arrives one November night at the Anderson Carriage Company. John Cooper, a union activist and not incidentally the fiancé of Will's former lover Elizabeth, has been crushed to death in a huge hydraulic press. Not thinking clearly, Will flees the scene and makes feeble attempts to cover his tracks, disposing of his bloody clothes and asking an employee to lie about the location of his car, an Anderson Victoria. Nevertheless, police detective Riordan seems to focus on Will with an unsettling intensity, and he receives an anonymous note from a would-be blackmailer. Problems with alcohol do nothing to improve his resolve or his credibility with police. His friend Wesley McRae, an overeager music salesman, agrees to loan Will the blackmail money and enlists the Doyles, a trio of toughs comprising a father and two sons, to help make the payment. The plan goes seriously awry, killing all three Doyles and landing Wesley in the hospital. When Will finally comes face to face with Elizabeth again, the circumstances are horrific, and his determination to protect her, even more than himself, propels him to solve the murder and bring the killer to justice.
Johnson's debut novel is unsteadily plotted, but an empathetic hero and an abundance of interesting historical detail should keep readers engaged.