Finding a captivating new mystery series is such a thrill — which is why I was so delighted to discover of A Spark of Death, the first novel in a new series by my fellow Poisoned Pen author Bernadette Pajer. Set in turn-of-the-twentieth-century Seattle, A Spark of Death features an appealing protagonist, Dr. Benjamin Bradshaw, an engineering professor accused of murdering his pompous colleague in a electrified metal contraption (think Dr. Frankenstein’s lab crossed with a birdcage).
Full disclosure: I'm married to an engineer. I find wire and metal contraptions that could kill people in my garage all the time. So I readily identified with this set-up, and with this protagonist. And I found both fascinating.
This book satisfied on many levels. The mystery was impeccably structured, the setting expertly rendered, and the story irresistibly involving (the science was cool too, especially the details of what was then the cutting edge potential of electric current). It’s the main character who had me hooked, however — I enjoyed every minute I spent with Professor Bradshaw. He's smart and funny and achingly likable, a man of reason tending a broken heart and a tragic past. I enjoyed watching him come into his sleuthiness, finding a spark of life from an unforeseen tragedy as he applied logic, science, and an empathetic decency in his search for a killer. The secondary characters made a fine suspect pool, but more importantly, they provided the context of Bradshaw's life, adding emotional texture to his existence. Scenes from his family life, from his professional life, and from his increasingly dangerous investigative life wove an intricate tapestry of emotional yearning and intellectual curiosity, with the Professor at the center.
I enjoyed every minute I spent in this book. It's an excellent beginning to what is sure to be a top-notch series, and I can't wait until Professor Bradshaw gets his next chance to practice electrical forensics.
Recommended beverage: a nice milk punch, or perhaps some sherry served in your grandmother's cut crystal cordial glasses. Something smooth and pleasant that will nonetheless leave you with a hearty glow. Sip it slow.