Saturday, May 12, 2012

Review: A Spark of Death by Bernadette Pajer

by Bernadette Pajer
Release Date: July 11, 2011
2011 Poisoned Pen Press
Hardcover Edition; 208 Pages
ISBN: 978-1-59058-905-2
Genre: Fiction / Historical Mystery
Source: Review Copy from Publisher

3.5 / 5 Stars

When UW Professor Benjamin Bradshaw discovers a despised colleague dead inside the Faraday Cage of the Electric Machine, his carefully controlled world shatters. The facts don't add up—the police shout murder—and Bradshaw is the lone suspect. To protect his young son and clear his name, he must find the killer.

When Henry's niece Missouri appears on Bradshaw's porch in need of a home, her unorthodox views and femininity confuse and intrigue him as he struggles to protect his own haunting secret. Danger and death lurk everywhere—disguised as accidents. Has Bradshaw come alive again only to lose all he holds dear? Before it's too late, will he discover the circuit path that led to a spark of death?

My Thoughts
A Spark of Death was an intriguing and fun mystery set in early 20th century Seattle.  I was drawn into the story through the author's great writing style and actually enjoyed the historical lessons regarding Seattle almost more than I enjoyed the mystery.  Meticulously researched, and setting the story against a background a true events, learning about Seattle and the unrest surrounding the political system and the technological developments that were taking place was truly a treat.

Professor Bradshaw was a fascinating character and although I didn't care for him too much at the beginning of the novel as I found him cold and difficult to sympathize this, this gradually changed as the novel developed and by the end, I was a huge fan of his.  Deliberately manipulated by the author's clever writing skills, we learn more about Bradshaw's past and his difficult relationship with his dead wife, and as he opens up more and more, it became easier and easier to empathize with Bradshaw and the difficulties he has with people and with women, in particular.  I particularly grew to admire his determination and doggedness to pursue the truth despite the fact the public wanted his head and himself in jail.  It just made me think about how easy it is to judge somebody without really knowing them and how quickly we tend to do this.  

While I really did admire the historical details and attention to historical fact, I thought the actual mystery story was predictable and easy to decipher.  Furthermore, I wish more effort had been put into the development of the secondary characters as well as there was so much potential there; so many of them had intriguing stories and personalities but I don't really feel they were used as well as they could have been to develop this story.  I do love how the author used so many historical figures or bases so many of her characters on actual historical figures however, as it gives the novel this authentic feeling of the time.  And there are quite a few themes built into this novel that I hope are continued into future ones: technological development and the potential for abuse, anarchy, suicide, women and their rights, women and education, societal pressures and politics.  

A Spark of Death was a fun beginning to a new mystery series featuring an interesting new character, Professor Bradshaw.  I really enjoyed his character development although felt that the other characters have a lot of room to grow and develop as well.  While the historical background and setting were fascinating, I really felt the mystery itself was somewhat predictable and easy to discern; it didn't make it any less interesting as there was so much else in this novel, but I would have liked a few more twists and turns.  That being said, I really enjoyed Professor Bradshaw and look forward to learning more about him in Fatal Induction, which released May 1st, 2012.