Inventor Thomas Alva Edison is also a ruthless businessman, intent on furthering his patents and General Electric and beating rivals like Nikola Tesla and Westinghouse. Edison has agents in place in Seattle but he’s come himself in pursuit of a mysterious invention lost in 1901 in Elliott Bay. When Edison asks for information, few refuse. But not University of Washington Professor Benjamin Bradshaw who’s earned a reputation as a private investigator where science—electricity—is concerned. Bradshaw hopes that the lost device, one conceived in anger by an anarchist and harnessed for murder, will elude Edison’s hired divers. _x000D_
Soon, one December morning, 1903, the Bon Marché’s Department Store electrician is found dead in the Men’s Wear Window clutching a festoon of Edison’s new holiday lights. Bradshaw believes Edison had set a dangerous game in motion. Motives multiply as the dead man’s secrets surface alongside rivalries at the Bon Marché. Bradshaw, his sleuthing partner Henry Pratt, and the Seattle PD’s Detective O’Brien pursue leads, but none spark Bradshaw’s intuition. His heart is not in the investigation but in a courtship that will force him to defy his Catholic faith or lose his beloved, Missouri. Then a crossroads in the case forces him to face his personal fears and his first professional failure. Whatever the outcomes, his life is about to change…. _x000D_
About the Author
Bernadette Pajer's Professor Bradshaw Mysteries have been called "deft, highly entertaining" by Publisher's Weekly and "a great series" by the Portland Review of Books. Titles include A SPARK OF DEATH, FATAL INDUCTION, CAPACITY FOR MURDER, and EDISON’S INQUIRY.
Read an Excerpt
The Edison Effect
A Professor Bradshaw Mystery
By Bernadette Pajer
Poisoned Pen PressCopyright © 2014 Bernadette Pajer
All rights reserved.
"Bradshaw, it's Thomas Edison! He's here!"
Of all the interruptions, this one was so unexpected that Professor Benjamin Bradshaw wondered if he'd not yet fully recovered from his concussion.
It was a warm summer afternoon on the campus of the University of Washington. A box kite danced below billowy white clouds drifting in the blue sky, and a touch of color in the elm saplings hinted at the approach of fall.
Bradshaw stood on the lawn between Lewis and Clark Halls, arms outstretched to Missouri Fremont as she abandoned Colin Ingersoll and his kite. She approached Bradshaw with a smile that took his breath away. This was a moment he'd resisted for two years. A moment he wasn't sure was wise. The differences between him and Missouri might be insurmountable, and yet, here he was. His heart thundered. He doubted he'd ever been happier—or more frightened—in his entire life.
Little more than a week had passed since he'd been left for dead in a rotting cellar during an investigation of gruesome murders. He'd thought himself fully recovered, other than a dull ache in his shoulder where the weight of a cast iron frying pan had struck, until the shout about Thomas Edison pierced his overwhelmed emotions. For a terrifying second, he thought he might still be back in that cellar, hallucinating.
Certainly, such romantic moments were rare for him. As Missouri approached, he knew he would never forget this moment, the way her dark amber eyes gleamed with joy and affection, the way the golden highlights shimmered in her short mahogany hair. She moved in her summery gown with the grace of a queen and the bounce of a child.
Their fingertips had not yet touched when the shout carried to him again, its urgency penetrating his cocoon of fearful happiness.
"Bradshaw! It's Edison!"
As he continued to gaze into Missouri's eyes, he was aware that Colin Ingersoll had turned toward the shout. Colin, a lanky and likable engineering student, was Missouri's would-be suitor, and he was no doubt confused by Missouri's abandoning his side to welcome Bradshaw so warmly.
"Hurry!" Assistant Professor Hill came running toward them from the direction of the Administration Building, shouting, "It's Thomas Edison! Here to see you!"
Missouri's eyes flickered with delight. She asked, "Is it the Thomas Edison, do you suppose? The Wizard of Menlo Park?"
Bradshaw smiled. "He has been known to attempt to steal the great moments of other men's lives."
"Are you and I in the midst of a great moment?"
"Only if you consider me confiding my feelings for you a great moment."
She gave a little gasp.
And then Hill was upon them, panting and grinning and tipping his hat to Missouri. He grabbed Bradshaw's arm and pulled. "Come on!"
* * *
It's disconcerting to enter a deeply familiar place and find a celebrity there, a man one had previously seen only in published photographs or artistic renderings. But here he was, Thomas Edison in the flesh, in Bradshaw's own office on the second floor of the Administration Building. In his mid-fifties, his hair thin and white, his complexion pale, he yet exuded strength. He wore an expensively tailored, crumpled suit, and his sagging posture revealed a lifetime at the workbench.
Bradshaw had grown up knowing the great inventor's name. He'd been twelve when Edison, eighteen years his senior, invented the phonograph, and fourteen when the first practical light bulb secured Edison a place in history. As Bradshaw's own curiosity and exploration into electrical matters became an obsession, he'd read everything he could get his hands on about the man. He knew that Edison had only three months of formal schooling before being labeled "addled" by his teacher, and so he'd been homeschooled by his mother, who had encouraged his curiosity. Edison had been flat broke and sleeping in office basements in New York when, by chance, he'd impressed a stock broker by fixing a stock ticker, winning the man's admiration and a high-paying job. Soon after, he invented an improved stock ticker, which he sold for a small fortune. He'd used those funds to build an electrical empire. Yes, there was much Bradshaw admired about Thomas Edison.
And much he disliked. There were far too many stories of greed for them all to be the mere fuming of jealous rivals. It was well known he'd cheated Nikola Tesla out of promised wages. And the War of the Currents a decade ago, pitting alternating current against direct current, had gotten downright ugly. It was still ugly. Rather than accept the scientific fact that each current had applications for which it was best suited, Edison continued to slander alternating current and those he considered his rivals. To protect the income from his many patented direct-current devices, he performed public stunts, such as electrocuting stray animals, in attempts to put fear of alternating current into the hearts of the general public. Just this past January, Edison had electrocuted an elephant in a bizarre display, which he captured on moving film.
Still, childhood impressions are deep-seated, and Bradshaw felt his palms dampen at the sight of Thomas Edison standing by his office window, looking at a copy of American Electrician. Edison didn't turn when he entered, even though Bradshaw had spoken to Hill at the door, telling him to wait in the hall and make sure they weren't disturbed by eager students who were already lining up to meet the famous inventor.
"They will have their chance once I've spoken to him."
Hill whispered eagerly, "But why is he here?"
"I have no idea," said Bradshaw, closing the door with an audible click, wondering if Edison had heard. It was said that the famous inventor of Menlo Park was nearly deaf.
Bradshaw began to move toward Edison's peripheral vision to announce his presence without startling him, but Edison's senses must have been heightened by his hearing loss because he spoke as if fully aware that Bradshaw had shut the door on adoring fans. "When they stop being eager to see me, that's when I'll worry."
Edison's voice was pitched higher than Bradshaw expected. It contrasted with his fierce reputation. "They are our future, Professor Bradshaw, and their excitement both inspires and depresses me. Think of all they will invent, and all we will miss, because of our mortality." He closed the magazine and returned it to the shelf, then he at last turned to Bradshaw, his wide mouth spread in a grin, his blue-green eyes warm with intelligence and humor.
Bradshaw quickly wiped his hand on his jacket before offering it. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Edison." He didn't shout, but he did enunciate carefully. He'd read that Edison could hear well enough in a quiet room to converse easily.
"Likewise, Professor Bradshaw."
They shook hands, and Bradshaw knew he was beaming. It wasn't every day that one met a childhood hero.
"Have a seat. Can I get you anything? Water? Coffee? I can send to the dorms for some lemonade."
Edison took the offered seat near the bookcase but refused refreshment. Bradshaw sat opposite him.
"I haven't got much time, so I'll get right to the point, Professor. I've been hearing for some time now about a former student of yours, the one who tried to assassinate President McKinley."
Bradshaw's enthusiasm dissolved into disappointment, then anger. He hadn't realized how flattered he'd felt that Edison had chosen to pay him a visit until this revelation that his visit had nothing to do with him.
"Oscar Daulton," Bradshaw said quietly.
"Oscar Daulton," he said more distinctly.
"Yes, that's the name. I'm told he invented a device that could transform direct current, and I came to see if there was any truth to it, or if it's simply an electrical tall tale."
Bradshaw cleared his throat. "It's uncertain. He did display a device that appeared to do just that. And I believe he used that device to set a trap to assassinate McKinley, but the president's visit to Seattle was cancelled and the trap killed my colleague instead."
"You believe? You're not completely certain?"
"I can't be certain when I have no proof. I never saw the internal workings of the device, and my deductions over how Oglethorpe died were based on circumstantial evidence. Oscar Daulton confessed to the crime, but he would not explain how it was done nor verify my conclusions. And you likely heard that before his arrest he threw the device overboard into Elliott Bay."
"But you saw it? In operation? This device of his?"
"The one and only time I saw Daulton's device was during a student exhibition in the spring of '01."
Edison sat forward expectantly. Bradshaw struggled with conflicting emotions. Here was an opportunity to discuss with the famous inventor something potentially history-making. Yet here, too, was the danger of glorifying a device invented by a madman with the intent to kill. Edison abhorred weapons and was vocal about his intention never to invent them. Yet he was also a man irresistibly drawn to new ideas.
"Tell me," said Edison, his tone friendly, his eyes demanding.
Bradshaw came to the decision that there was no harm in stating what had already been made public. "The device was housed in a large cigar box," he began, "and the working components hidden within." He went on to describe the bank of glass jar batteries and a silent electric flame arcing between metal rods that protruded from the cigar box.
"Come now, Bradshaw. A silent air gap? That makes no sense. Surely there was some buzzing or such, you just didn't hear it. Was there a lot of background noise at this exhibition? Chatter and clanking and all manner of sounds?"
"There was some noise, but on the whole the event was subdued. I expected a loud buzz from the flame, but heard none."
Edison took no notes, but he gave Bradshaw the distinct impression he was memorizing every word and visualizing the device. The grooves between his eyes, developed, no doubt, from years of close scrutiny and study, deepened.
"Was there much heat from the cigar box?"
A tap at the door saved Bradshaw from an immediate reply. He excused himself and opened the door slightly to find a telegram delivery boy, a freckle-faced youth familiar to him. Behind him, a crowd of students and staff milled expectantly, a few craning their necks to see into Bradshaw's office.
The boy beamed with self-importance, tipping his cap. "Telegram, sir."
"Thank you very much." He signed the receipt and reached into his pocket for a coin, then exchanged the tip for the message. The boy turned and swaggered importantly through the crowd. Bradshaw tucked the wire in his pocket without reading it and heard whispers of, "Did you see him?" before he softly closed the door.
In that short time, Mr. Edison had seated himself at Bradshaw's desk and helped himself to the sketch pad and a pencil.
"What were the dimensions of the cigar box?"
Bradshaw stood beside Edison, estimating as best he could the size of the box, the number of batteries in the bank, the length of the rods, and the distance between them.
"Rather small for what it was purported to do. Was there much heat?" Edison asked again.
"When I placed my hand upon the box, I felt no heat."
Edison looked up at him. "Eh? No heat?"
"No heat at all. But then, it had only been on a minute or so before I touched it."
Edison studied his sketch again.
"You say it was powered only by this bank of batteries and yet displayed a steady arc across the rods? The current shouldn't have been sufficient to make the leap."
"No, it shouldn't have been."
Edison frowned over the diagram. The silence of the room became heavy with what they weren't saying, about the War of the Currents, about Edison's resentment over the triumph of alternating current. The proverbial elephant in the room had an all-too-real counterpart that had lost its life at Coney Island. If it truly worked as demonstrated, Daulton's invention could be Edison's greatest revenge against NikolaTesla and Westinghouse and the backers of alternating current.
Bradshaw said carefully, "I questioned Daulton about it, and he refused to explain. He did say, however, that the device also worked with alternating current."
"That was reported in your city's paper, but I gave it no credit. Reporters know nothing of electricity."
"In this case, the report was accurate. He did say it."
"Are you sure it wasn't a trick of some sort?"
"No, I can't be sure."
"There must be evidence somewhere, someone the young man confided in, notes he took, materials he used."
Bradshaw moved around his desk to sit opposite Edison, feeling like a guest in his own office.
"Oscar Daulton was a troubled young man. He had no close friends, and his family disowned him after he was arrested. Only I visited him in jail, and he refused to confide in me. I inherited all his worldly possessions, which amounted to very little, including a personal journal in which he never wrote of his electrical experiments. I searched everywhere I could think of, from his dorm room to the hut by the lake where he was known to study, but found nothing. Although he was often unnerved by life, he displayed an impressive ability for memorization when calm. It could be that he devised his inventions in his mind and never recorded anything, as a way of ensuring secrecy."
Mr. Edison dropped the pencil and sat back. "Sneaky little bastard. I can't abide a weak man, Professor. I don't understand them. Nothing I have was given to me, and nothing came easy."
Bradshaw resisted the urge to defend Oscar Daulton, who had been weak, it was true. His mental and emotional instability had been his undoing. But the boy had not been dealt a fair hand in life, and he hadn't been born with the resources to handle either the humiliation of his family's treatment of him or the horrors of war. His life might have turned out differently had he not been haunted by what he witnessed while serving in the Philippines.
"What's your theory, Professor? Surely you've come up with some ideas. You've got a patent or two, and a reputation for cleverness, I'm told, solving crimes for the police. What do you make of it? How did he do it?"
Bradshaw met Edison's gaze squarely. "I don't know."
Edison said nothing, but his jaw was set tight and he scrunched his mouth, either in disappointment or disbelief. Bradshaw hadn't spent enough time with him to know which, but Edison stood with a swiftness that shouted his time had been wasted.
He tore the sketch of the device from the pad, folded it precisely, and tucked it into an inner jacket pocket.
"Well, Professor, I appreciate your time."
Bradshaw resisted the impulse to apologize. "It was an honor to meet you, sir," he said instead.
Edison started for the door, then halted, pointing across the room to a table by the window. There sat a small wooden box painted to depict Santa Claus and a Christmas tree and smiling children holding festoons of colorful electric lights. "I brought you a sample. They'll be in department stores across the country by the holidays. We're the first to the market with pre-strung lamps."
The "we," Bradshaw knew, meant Edison and the General Electric Company.
"Congratulations. And thank you." Bradshaw had years ago devised his own festoons of colored electric lights that he placed on the Christmas tree each year, but he knew it was a luxury most Americans couldn't afford since it required a skilled electrician to wire them. Prewired lights would be a money-maker.
With a nod, Edison opened the door to his adoring fans. Bradshaw crossed to the window, his thoughts spinning. Even the sight of the dancing box kite and of Missouri once again at Ingersoll's side failed to pull him from the implications of Edison's inquiry.
Excerpted from The Edison Effect by Bernadette Pajer. Copyright © 2014 Bernadette Pajer. Excerpted by permission of Poisoned Pen Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Bernadette Pajer in her new book, “The Edison Effect” Book Four in the A Professor Bradshaw Mystery series published by Poisoned Pen Press gives us another adventure with Professor Bradshaw. From the back cover: Inventor Thomas Alva Edison is also a ruthless businessman, intent on furthering his patents and General Electric and beating rivals like Nikola Tesla and Westinghouse. Edison has agents in place in Seattle but he’s come himself in pursuit of a mysterious invention lost in 1901 in Elliott Bay. When Edison asks for information, few refuse. But not University of Washington Professor Benjamin Bradshaw who’s earned a reputation as a private investigator where science—electricity—is concerned. Bradshaw hopes that the lost device, one conceived in anger by an anarchist and harnessed for murder, will elude Edison’s hired divers. Soon, one December morning, 1903, the Bon Marché’s Department Store electrician is found dead in the Men’s Wear Window clutching a festoon of Edison’s new holiday lights. Bradshaw believes Edison had set a dangerous game in motion. Motives multiply as the dead man’s secrets surface alongside rivalries at the Bon Marché. Bradshaw, his sleuthing partner Henry Pratt, and the Seattle PD’s Detective O’Brien pursue leads, but none spark Bradshaw’s intuition. His heart is not in the investigation but in a courtship that will force him to defy his Catholic faith or lose his beloved, Missouri. Then a crossroads in the case forces him to face his personal fears and his first professional failure. Whatever the outcomes, his life is about to change… Thomas Edison did not invent electricity. Shocked? Sorry, it is true. Edison did invent the way to get the electricity into our homes for all our electric usages. According to his bio the Spencer Tracy movie version of him is not quite true. Whatever the case adding him into the mix for this murder mystery is quite a feat. Imagine you go out for a brisk walk, it is invigorating and the world goes by quickly. That is exactly how Ms. Pajer paced this book. It is invigorating and the action keeps coming at you at a brisk clip. Professor Bradshaw has his hands full as he helps the police try to solve the murder of a window dresser in a department store window. This is quite a complex plot and I have news for you only Professor Bradshaw is going to be able to figure this one out. Danger, Mayhem, Thrills and murder all figure into this highly complicated plot. There are fascinating characters that seem very real and a killer that seems impossible to discover. “The Edison Effect” is loaded with twists and turns and red herrings that will leave you guessing all the while you are flipping pages to find out what happens next. Ms. Pajer has provided us with a fairly exciting book. Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Partners In Crime. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
clever story weaving real Seattle history and people with a mystery and Professor Bradshaw and the characters I've met and come to love in the earlier books in the series. Each book works as a stand-alone mystery. A must read for mystery fans seeking a good historical mystery!