Author: Bernadette Pajer

Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press

ISBN: 9781464201264


In 1855 Guillame Duchenne developed electrotherapy; the use of electrical energy as a medical treatment. Medical practitioners and quacks joined the bandwagon and it was soon being used as a remedy for problems as diverse as baldness, mental illness, muscle contractions and to improve the chance of becoming a father.

Set in 1903, a fertility fault is where the trouble starts in Bernadette Pajer’s new Professor Bradshaw Mystery, Capacity For Murder. Prof. Benjamin Bradshaw, an electrical engineering lecturer at Seattle University, receives an urgent telegram from Dr. Arnold Hornsby, the owner/operator of Healing Sands Sanitarium, southwest of Seattle, Washington.

Dr. Hornsby, trying to cure his son-in-law, David’s infertility, thought a course of electrotherapy might prove efficacious. During a healing session, there’s an unexpected outcome – David dies; a jolt or volt too many, perhaps. Distraught, Dr. Hornsby requests Ben Bradshaw visit post haste to solve the mystery of David’s death: machine malfunction or human error. 

The Prof takes the long trip to Healing Sands Sanitarium with an entourage in tow; his young son, housekeeper Mrs. Prouty, engineering students, best friend Henry and Henry’s niece Missouri, a 24 year old who is the undeclared object of Ben Bradshaw’s affections.

Lifestyle at The Healing Sands is pretty spartan – clean your own room and a menu d’jour consisting of gluggy grains, milk of an unusual hue and other yuk ingredients, the purpose being to cleanse both the digestive tract and the skin. From Bernadette Pajer’s cleverly written descriptions of guest’s reactions at mealtimes it’s a safe bet that given a choice most would stick with indigestion and a spotty skin, if during their stay they could get their hands on a Big Mac and a coke. 

Bradshaw checks out the electrotherapy room and equipment and makes two discoveries: the machine settings are in keeping with the manufacturer’s instructions and…   he is the manufacturer. Four years before, salesman, Arnold Loomis asked Bradshaw to design an electrotherapy machine to be manufactured and sold to medical practitioners. After the prototype was delivered to Loomis, both the machine and Loomis, slipped from sight – Bradshaw is positive that the machine which killed David is the machine he designed.

The machine, in perfect working order, it would have had to be tampered with to be responsible for David’s demise. Bradshaw lets the local authority know that David’s death was no accident but... murder most shocking (sorry, couldn’t resist the pun). 

He interviews and clears Dr. Hornsby and his family from any wrongdoing and requests a list of guests present at the time of the tragedy. There are four guests: a wealthy gold miner, a married couple, the husband sickly and ineffectual, his wife a mysterious femme fatale and Arnold Loomis. Loomis not only sold the machine to Dr. Hornsby, he’s been living, cost-free at the Sanitarium and is trying to persuade the doctor to expand the sanitarium.

Prof. Bradshaw, sure that Loomis is up to no good, promotes him to number one on his suspect list. The other three guest’s behaviour, suspicious, is there something in the past that links them to Loomis and provides a motive for Dr. Hornsby’s son-in-law’s murder? Bradshaw, sure the answer is yes, discovers the means used to short circuit the electrotherapy machine and is about to identify the perpetrator when there’s another murder. 

Along the way, he has to deal with his feelings for Missouri; a modern young woman who tells him to shape up or ship out. The sequence where Missouri confronts Ben Bradshaw is written with sympathy for Missouri’s frustration at Ben’s inability to express his feelings. Well done, I really felt a good push in Missouri’s direction would do the Professor the world of good.  

Personal life, on hold, Bradshaw concentrates on unravelling the reasons behind the sanitarium murders. In an exciting, unexpectedly grisly conclusion he solves the multi layered mystery. The murderous rampage ended, Professor Bradshaw arrives back in Seattle in time for tea with Missouri. 

There’s a lot I liked about Capacity For Murder: setting, characters, plot and what I particularly liked was writer, Bernadette Pajer’s ability to explain the workings of both the electrotherapy treatment and the machine that produced the electrical impulses, the explanations seamlessly included in the story in a simple concise manner – sort of early electrical devices for dummies or blondes like me which prompted me to google for more info.

Capacity For Murder, A Professor Bradshaw Mystery, every bit as electrifying as the therapy machine, is a good read.

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