Monroe author's latest mystery doesn't stretch to full capacity

FOR THE BELLINGHAM HERALDJune 10, 2013 

As we all know by now, the early years of a new century can be stressful - a time when we seem to be especially sensitive to the influx of new people and new technologies, shifting social standards, rapid development, and the overall changing times. That's as true at the dawn of the 21st century as it was at the beginning of the 20th century, but Monroe author Bernadette Pajer somehow makes the turmoil of a hundred years ago sound more appealing.

As the creator of the Professor Bradshaw Mystery series, Pajer developed a hero who is at the forefront of a new technology in the early 1900s. Benjamin Bradshaw is a professor of electrical engineering at the University of Washington. That prowess, coupled with his keen observational skills, make him the go-to fellow in early 20th century Seattle and surrounds, when brazen crimes seem to be electrifying the community.

In Pajer's latest book, "Capacity for Murder," the professor receives an urgent telegram from a doctor who runs a sanitarium out on the coast, outside of Hoquiam. Dr. Hornsby promises an all-expenses-paid trip not only for Bradshaw, but also for his family (a widower, Bradshaw has a 10-year-old son) and students, in order to solicit the professor's expertise on an "accident of an electrical nature."

When Bradford finally is persuaded to travel to the remote Healing Sands Sanitarium, he discovers that the doctor's son-in-law has died after receiving an electrotherapeutic treatment administered by the doctor himself. The device the doctor used is one that Bradford knows very well, so he is able to ascertain quickly that the machine had been tampered with and this was no accident: The young man had been murdered.

While the law is sent for down the coast, Bradford initiates his own investigation into who might have had the motive, opportunity, and electrical knowledge to have committed this homicide.

The list of suspects is rather small - guests at the hotel - an illiterate gold-miner who struck pay-dirt, a traveling salesman and an ailing businessman and his flirtatious wife.

Where Pajer shines, however, is in recreating the time and place. She has a knack for setting the scene, and she is meticulous in ensuring the accuracy of her descriptions and scientific facts. That is why this book, along with the others in the Professor Bradshaw series, have received the Seal of Approval after being peer-reviewed by the Washington Academy of Sciences.

Readers who pay close attention to all of the arcane clues that Bradshaw patiently gathers will wind up with a pretty good grounding on the early development of electricity.

The problem is the story line. While Pajer initially throws in some red herrings to try to complicate the plot, she doesn't do enough to develop these.

Still, the book is worth reading for the history and the science.

Professor Bradshaw no doubt will be back - his growing son, and a deepening romantic interest, should offer good grist for the next book in the series.

Barbara Lloyd McMichael writes a weekly column focusing on the books, authors and publishers of the Pacific Northwest. Contact her at bkmonger@nwlink.com

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