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Capacity for Murder by Bernadette Pajer

I’ve reviewed now all three books in Bernadette Pajer’s “A Professor Bradshaw Mystery” series.  “A Capacity for Murder” follows a similar theme but places the setting in a remote health spa along the Washington coast rather than in the lab where Bradshaw works at the University of Washington.  Bradshaw is the fictional professor of electrical engineering at the University of Washington and a Forensic Investigator for accidents and murders that involve electricity.  The time frame for this series is the early 20th century when the field of electrical engineering was relatively new.

A Capacity for Murder” explores specifically electromagnetic therapy.  Bradshaw is called to investigate the death of the handyman and son-in-law of a medical doctor who runs a health spa.  The device that kills the man is a chair outfitted with electricity that Bradshaw had built several years before and had sold to a medical sales representative.  Bradshaw was unaware the the salesman had bought it back from the doctor who originally ordered it, and the sales rep, Arnold Loomis, had put his own name on the device and resold it to Dr. Hornsby of the Healing Sands Sanitarium.  After the death the local police detained all the guests and staff of the Healing Sands and Hornsby pleaded with Bradshaw to come at once to the spa to investigate the unusual death in order to allow the sanitarium to go back to business as quickly as possible.  Of course, Bradshaw determined that the safety features of the chair had been short-circuited and the full force of the electrical current electrocuted the handyman.  There were reasons to implicate almost all of the guests in what appeared to be a murder.

This book, like Pajer’s early Bradshaw mysteries, effectively weaves themes from the history of science and electrical engineering into the story.  Her research is so trustworthy that “A Capacity for Murder” has received the peer reviewed seal of the Washington Academy of Sciences, so the book is more than a work of fiction, it also an insightful commentary on the history of science.  Pajer also researched the regimes of early health spas including the use of electrotherapy, sweating patients by burying them in sand, vegetarian and organic dietary restrictions, etc.

I would have liked to have seen Bradshaw’s students a little more involved in solving the mystery, since he brings his whole summer school class,and virtually his whole entourage along with him to the beach.  The rest of the crew is left with little to do but wander the beach and find ways to smuggle in forbidden foods, except for Bradshaw’s business partner, Henry, who participates in the investigation.  The story plods a little with the sameness of days spent at the beach.  The real solution to the mystery lies in research back in Seattle and in nearby coastal communities.

There is a little bit of excitement toward the end of the book, but basically the plot of “A Capacity for Murder” is more sedate and slow-moving than Pajer’s earlier books.  I enjoyed it nonetheless.

Reviewed with a supplied copy.

Liz Nichols


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