Sunday, February 19, 2012

A Spark of Death: Review

Set in the Seattle of 1901, A Spark of Death by Bernadette Pajer, feeds two of my mystery habits--historical and academic. And I must say thank you to Steve, aka The Puzzle Doctor, over at In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel for bringing this one to my attention. He has been adding to my TBR pile on a regular basis since I started following his blog. If you like mysteries and don't already know Steve then you should definitely head on over to his site. You won't be disappointed!

The novel takes place at the turn of the century when electric power is just beginning to be widely used and the common man is still a little suspicious of this new-fangled power. The Electrical Engineering Department at the University of Washington has designed a Faraday Cage of the Electrical Machine with plans to display its powers when President McKinley comes to campus for a visit. Before the town hears that the President's trip has been cancelled, tragedy strikes--great enough that it might have prevented the President from coming anyway.

Professor Benjamin Bradshaw makes the discovery. His despised colleague, Professor Oglethorpe, is sitting in the Cage, dead from electrocution. The police quickly fasten on the rivalry and dislike between the two men and Bradshaw becomes suspect number one. Fortunately for Bradshaw, there isn't enough evidence to hold him and he is left free to do a bit of detective work on his own. He feels that he must--to clear his name and protect his son.

While the police shout murder and the good citizens howl for his arrest, Bradshaw begins to unearth clues that reveal several motives. But the real question is--was Oglethorpe the intended victim or did he die in a trap laid for the President? Was personal vengeance or public anarchy at the bottom of it?

Pajer has done a terrific job with this debut novel of what promises to be a wonderful historical mystery series. She's obviously done her research and expertly evokes the time and setting of early 20th Century Seattle. But the research is not overdone. She doesn't burden the reader with so much information that all you see is "It's a historical novel! Look it's 1901!" The setting is important, but only to support the story. And the characterization of Professor Bradshaw
is marvelous. He is a character with depth and I can't wait to see where the next novel takes us. Other characters can use some fleshing out--but I'm quite sure that Pajer will take care of that as the series develops. Over all, a wonderful beginning. I will definitely be on the lookout for more Bradshaw adventures. Four stars.


Unknown said...

I just read a book similar to this called The Technologists by Matthew Pearl (not sure if it came out yet).

Excellent review. Also, if you want to check out A Fierce Radiance by Lauren Belfer (, that might be something you'd like as well.

Debbie Rodgers said...

I added this one to my list when Steve reviewed it, too, Bev. His is a great site for mystery lovers.

Lauren Belfer's City of Light, set in 1901 Buffalo is also about the advent of electricity. Quite good, although strictly a mystery.

Bev Hankins said...

@Debbie: I have the Belfer Book. I thought I might get to it last year, but alas, no. Still sitting on the TBR pile.

dog eared copy said...

I have to admit that I'm a little surprised to see a review of this book if only because it comes from a pretty mall independent press; and I didn't think any one in my blogging circles had noticed it! I read it last year and was really intrigued by Bradshaw and his fortitude when the town's sentiment turned against him. The sequel, Fatal Induction is due out 05/01/2012 and I'm eager to see what Pajer does with Bradshaw's niece :-)

Bev Hankins said...

@dog eared copy: I wouldn't have known about it if I hadn't seen it on Steve's blog.

Steve aka Puzzle Doctor said...

Well, I heard about it from a review in EQMM and was intrigued. The good news is that the next book, Fatal Induction is out very soon.

@Debbie - thanks for the kind words on my site