A college professor enters a contest and dabbles in a murder investigation.
Benjamin Bradshaw, Professor of Electrical Engineering, has moved to Seattle at the dawn of the 20th century to shield his young son from the stigma of his mother’s suicide. Before the semester begins, Bradshaw, who’s entered a contest for a telephonic system that will deliver music from the Seattle Grand Theater directly to people’s homes, is caught up in a mystery. Why is an abandoned gypsy peddler’s cart in the lane behind his house, and where are the father and child who were living in it? Soon enough, the body of the father is found nearby and Bradshaw learns that his own son has been harboring the little girl, a possible witness to murder who runs away when Bradshaw sees her. Despite warnings from his old friend Detective O’Brien to keep out of the case, Bradshaw follows a trail into dangerous areas of town full of bars, brothels and assorted criminals. The dead peddler, who was not in fact a gypsy, had sold a tonic with dangerous ingredients that involve the professor in a federal investigation into adulterated patent medicine. After his gold fever abates, Bradshaw’s best friend Henry suddenly returns to a town already on edge since the shooting of President McKinley, and Henry’s niece Missouri is determined to convince Bradshaw that she’s not too young for him. Nothing daunted, Bradshaw uses his electrical expertise in a plan to trap a ruthless killer.
The second in Pajer’s Professor Bradshaw series is more slowly paced than his debut (A Spark of Death, 2011). Even so, the historical tidbits and information on early electrical inventions keep it interesting.