A Spark of Death (Professor Bradshaw)
“With red herrings, foreshadowing, and hidden clues added in, A Spark of Death leads us on a . . . breathless journey from beginning to end.”
A good mystery is like a maze of tall yew trees. There is one way in and one way out, and everything in between is a series of twists and turns. With red herrings, foreshadowing, and hidden clues added in, A Spark of Death leads us on a similarly breathless journey from beginning to end.
Bernadette Pajer’s protagonist, Professor Benjamin Bradshaw, is the one who takes the reader through the story in the third-person point of view. The reader never journeys into another’s thoughts. Author Pajer does an exemplary job of maintaining this limited POV with active narrative and clear description. Professor Bradshaw is clearly drawn and easy to visualize—and we are comfortable being in his skin. There is an even blending of humor and pathos as his personal secrets unfurl, simultaneously taking him deeper into the mystery of murder.
As the story unfolds, Bradshaw finds himself in the predicament of having to prove his innocence regarding a horrific crime, and Ms. Pajer has built into Bradshaw’s character the knowledge and temperament to carry this off in spite of the enormous odds against him.
The author also introduces an “almost” love interest in the form of Miss Missouri Fremont to provide an undercurrent of tension that is just enough to unnerve the shy and somewhat introverted hero. It remains to be seen if this love interest will continue through the rest of the series. If not, then Miss Fremont is merely a distraction; if she does, then it will be interesting to watch this relationship as it grows.
Mrs. Prouty, the housekeeper, is also well rounded and enjoyable to read about. She brings saltiness to the story and is quite endearing. The author’s other characters, while well described, are not always clearly motivated—until we get to the end of the story. These characters tie up all of the loose ends, but more interaction throughout the story leading up to the resolution would have been more satisfying.
The setting is a pleasure to experience. Ms. Pajer sets the stage at the turn of the (last) century in Seattle, Washington. Through vivid description, she mixes history with the (then) cutting edge of technology—all well researched, interesting, informative. Ms. Pajer deftly weaves real places and events into her fiction, while tossing in bits of anarchy and illegitimacy to spice things up. There is an overarching Victorian morality in the tale, and yet many of the story’s events and explored emotions seem to reflect a more contemporaneous sensibility.
The story picks up speed as it nears its inevitable end, and yet there are moments when the reader seems to have fallen out of picture and is only along for the protagonist’s ride. As with any good mystery, the clues and red herrings and foreshadowing should provide the reader with just enough information to arrive at the same conclusion as the protagonist—but just a few seconds later. Ms. Pajer lets the cat out of the bag a few pages too soon, before we are able to come to our own conclusions. But her strong narrative takes us through an exciting chase, a dramatic confrontation, and a satisfying end.