Fatal Induction by Bernadette Pajer is the second in her Professor Ben Bradshaw series of historical mysteries (available May 1, 2012).
The race to win an electrical competition incites Professor Bradshaw’s obsession for invention in this sequel to A Spark for Death, but the search for a child who may have witnessed a murder forces him to transform his contest entry into a trap to catch a killer.
Fatal Induction is the second in Bernadette Pajer’s series about Ben Bradshaw, who serves as Professor of Electrical Engineering at the University of Washington. I have not yet read the first book in the series, A Spark of Death, but there was enough detail in Fatal Induction to bring me up to speed on the various secondary characters and how Bradshaw had fallen into investigation.
I chose the book because the series is set in 1901, when many of the devices we take for granted today—or have abandoned in favor of better alternatives—were new and exciting. I loved having a historical view of what it might have felt like to live in that era and deal with such rapidly changing technology—sort of like today, in fact.
There are some great bits of general historical detail about turn-of-the-century Seattle, which was still a fairly wild place thanks to a gold rush, but for me the best part was hearing about aspects of history that are usually forgotten, but at one time were mundane. As you would expect, there are electrical devices in this story (Bradshaw has entered a contest to build a “musical telephone”), but the plot also revolves around patent medicine, which the murder victim sold from a wagon. I had never read much about patent medicine, so that aspect turned out to be an unexpected plus for me.
Bradshaw squeezed his bicycle between his white picket fence and the wagon that was attached to the horse, tossing a disparaging glance at the advertisement blazoned on the square black-paneled side. Ralph’s Redeeming Restorative, it said, in bold red letters against a bright yellow sun bursting over a distant horizon. In smaller fancy script beneath the sun was written, The Romany Remedy that Really Works!
. . .“Open any newspaper or magazine, Professor,” a seasoned and patient pharmacist explained, “and you will find dozens of advertisements for patent medicines. Those ads don’t come cheap, but they do come with contracts. The papers agree to run the ads, and they agree not to say anything contrary to the patent medicine business anywhere in their papers. It’s a million dollar business. We honest medicine makers have to play by the rules. They don’t.”
“I thought the State Pharmacy Board oversaw patent medicines.” A cynical laugh crackled down the phone line. “They collect fees for licenses, but that’s it. Patent meds are exempt from all laws and regulations of pharmaceuticals. They can put anything in their tinctures and tonics, change the ingredients on a whim, make any claim they want on the label.”
You would think that an inventor would not be that interested in such non-scientific aspects of life, but it turns out that Bradshaw’s mental skill is applicable to solving the mystery, neatly tying all the elements of the plot together.
Not a graph of invention, but deduction. He was working on what he was calling “The Case of the Abandoned Wagon.” The doll on the mantel had driven him to it, its very presence shouting louder than the call to invent. A very loud cry indeed. He needed to discover the girl’s fate. He simply could not believe she and her father were gypsies now safely returned to their tribe. The whole situation called to him like a puzzle begging to be solved or a complex trigonometric equation. It annoyed and distracted the outer edges of his thoughts and he knew he’d never fully concentrate on his contest device until he instilled some sense of order.
Later, of course, his electrical device turns out to be directly relevant as well.
If you enjoy historical mysteries, Pajer’s series is a particularly good example. She doesn’t just give the readers obvious details of setting; she digs a little deeper, works her research into the plot, and creates an immersive and enjoyable experience for the reader.
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Victoria Janssen is the author of three novels and numerous short stories. She has a World War One-set Spice Brief out in May titled “Under Her Uniform,” a tie-in to her novel The Moonlight Mistress. Follow her on Twitter: @victoriajanssen or find out more at victoriajanssen.com.
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