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CAPACITY FOR MURDER
by Bernadette Pajer
Poisoned Pen Press, June 2013
266 pages
$24.95
ISBN: 1464201269


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

In the third book in this historical mystery series, University of Washington professor Benjamin Bradshaw has become a licensed private detective, following several successful electrical forensic investigations.

News of his expertise has spread, and he gets an urgent telegram from the Healing Sands Sanitarium, a remote ocean spa southwest of Seattle. In return for his services, he can bring guests to the spa, and he does: his five summer students, his son Justin, Justin's friend, housekeeper Mrs. Prouty, investigative partner Henry Pratt, and Henry's niece, Missouri Fremont.

When they get there, Bradshaw finds that the son-in-law of the sanitarium's owners has died while undergoing electrotherapy for infertility. Most surprising, though, is that the machine that killed him was Bradshaw's own invention. After ruling out an accident, Bradshaw is on the hunt for a killer.

Pajer uses the classic mystery device of a remote site, with limited suspects. Aside from the family, there are four guests: Arnold Loomis, the disagreeable con man who sold the sanitarium the machine; a sickly guest and his manipulative wife, Frederick and Ingrid Thompson; and the wealthy Zebediah Moss. Does one of them possess the capacity for murder?

In addition to a solid plot, Pajer's novels are always interesting for the characters and the deep historical background. A main subplot involves Bradshaw's love life (or lack of one). Bradshaw is in love with Missouri Fremont, but holds back from pursuing her, even as one of his own students shows interest in the young woman. The professor is a man of routine and order, while Missouri is free-spirited and unconventional, and Bradshaw worries that their differences are insurmountable.

This book is set in 1903. Unlike previous ones, heavy on electrical innovations, here Pajer does her research, but it also includes other details, from descriptions of a large-scale agitator - an early washing machine - to turn-of-the-century medical practices. This may also be one of the few, if not the only, mystery series to carry the stamp of "peer reviewed and approved for science" by the Washington Academy of Sciences, proving that the science is indeed authentic. But even if you aren't a fan of science, Pajer has plenty to make this an interesting, lively read.

Lourdes Venard is a newspaper editor in Long Island, N.Y.

Reviewed by Lourdes Venard, July 2013

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