The Edison Effect (Professor Bradshaw)
by Bernadette Pajer
Review by Linda Marie Schumacher
Poisoned Pen Press Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9781464202506
Date: 01 September 2014 List Price $24.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Links: Author's Website / Show Official Info /
Professor Benjamin Bradshaw is an expert in electrical forensics. By today's standards that does not sound like much, but The Edison Effect takes place in 1903 when electricity was new. Thomas Edison and Nicola Tesla were arch rivals. Edison used direct current and Tesla used alternating current. We know who wins, but they did not in 1903. The Edison Effect opens when Thomas Edison is visiting Professor Bradshaw at his university office in Seattle, WA. Edison is searching for details of an invention designed by one of Bradshaw's late students. Bradshaw does not have the invention, but nobody else does either. The former student threw the invention overboard from a ferry in Seattle's harbor two years before Edison came searching.
Shortly after Edison departs, Bradshaw is called to the scene of a death at a local department store. An electrician is electrocuted while handling a string of Edison's new household Christmas lights in a window display at the department store. Bradshaw suspects murder and that the murder is related to the student's invention.
Bradshaw twists and turns throughout Seattle to investigate the crime with a local police inspector, but is at a loss to figure out the crime. Eventually, he figures it out and I really liked the way all the various subplots close.
Professor Bradshaw is also a widower with a young son. He is a devout Catholic, and depends on the structure of the church to run his life as a single parent. Bradshaw has a problem though, as he is in love with a young woman who is not a Catholic. About a third of the book is related to Bradshaw's on and off decisions between his love for the young woman and the Catholic Church. That was my least favorite part of the book. Honestly, I could have done without it, but I like the way Bradshaw resolves the issue at the end, so I'll take it.
The most interesting thing about The Edison Effect is the time period. It is fun to read about the start of electricity in the world and Thomas Edison is just one factor. In another, the author talks about child labor at the department store. Children work there and also go to school there. Bradshaw considers the ethics of this, but also realizes that the children who are working tend to eat a little better than some other children. The manager of the store has an interesting quote when he is discussing the typewriters in the store that were used to write a letter that factors into Bradshaw's investigation, "Tap-tap-tap! It is good for sales to let the customers try it out, but the children think it is a toy. It's the tool of their generation, I suppose, but what is to become of their handwriting if they are all using machines?" Bradshaw also considers the roles of men and women in society and questions the habit of male dominance in both society and in the Catholic Church where he worships. Women did not even have the right to vote in 1903, so it's a big deal. We also know how that one works out, as a female veteran is sitting here typing this. Aghast! She has an opinion and she is not afraid to express it. Historical fiction books like this one provide interesting comparisons that add a new dimension to the entertainment of reading.
On a personal note, since I grew up in New Jersey, we all take the grade school class trip to Edison's laboratories, and we see the movie he made and the synthetic rubber he invented with Harvey Firestone (think tires if you did not already get my point). It's lots of fun and he is kind of a hero to me. The Edison Effect portrays him as a scoundrel. My fifty-something brain realizes that is probably more accurate than my childhood memories, because few people become as successful as Edison by being nice guys. Oh well, I still have my memories.
Overall, I liked The Edison Effect.