Sunday, November 17, 2013

"The Séance Society"

Michael Nethercott's work has appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies including Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Best Crime and Mystery Stories of the Year, Gods and Monsters, and Crimestalkers Casebook. He is a past winner of The Black Orchid Novella Award, The Vermont Playwrights Award, and The Nor’easter Play Writing Contest. He lives with his wife in Guilford, Vermont.

Nethercott applied the Page 69 Test to his new traditional mystery novel, The Séance Society, and reported the following:
The 69th page of The Séance Society is actually very representative (no surprise to Page 69 theorists!) It touches on ghosts, quirky characters, interrogation, and the sharp wit of Mr. O’Nelligan, my gentleman sleuth—all main aspects of the novel.

At this point in the story—set in 1950s Connecticut—Lee Plunkett, a semi-adequate private eye, has enlisted the aid of the Irish-born O’Nelligan to investigate murder among a group of ghost-seeking spiritualists. In this scene, they confront that stalwart of traditional whodunits—the polished British butler. Far from being a submissive servant, Trowbridge is a pretty strident, well-spoken fellow who holds his own against his interrogators. Here he’s asked about his view of spirits. The belief or non-belief in the supernatural is very much central to the book’s plot. Lee Plunkett is our narrator:
“I don’t squander my time on phantoms,” Trowbridge said dryly. “None of their lot has deemed it necessary to contact me, and I return the favor by ignoring them. It’s a satisfactory arrangement.”

“I see,” my colleague responded. “Then that would number you, along with Miss Chauncey, as one of the household’s skeptics.”

“I can’t speak for the girl. I imagine she believed whatever Mr. Lloyd instructed her to believe. Not much backbone to that one. But then, off course, backbone is certainly not a
requirement for the position of secretary.”

“And what of the position of butler?” Mr. O’Nelligan was taking on this snooty son-of-a-gun. “What characteristics would you deem essential for your own vocation?”

Trowbridge didn’t flinch. “Discretion, precision, and a sturdy deportment, to name but a few. Oh, and I almost forgot detachment. Yes, detachment goes a long way. And, lastly… it never hurts to be English.”
The Irish and English have, of course, a complicated relationship, as evidenced by the tension between O’Nelligan and Trowbridge:
The glove had been thrown. These two men, born of nations with a shared history of armed strife, now stood staring each other down. I instinctively took a step back to distance myself from their standoff.
Here, as in much of the novel, Lee is more than content to have his Celtic colleague play point-man in the investigation. After all, Mr. O’Nelligan is the one with the real deductive chops.
Just when I feared they were about to respark old tribal violence, Mr. O’Nelligan drew himself back into detective mode.

“On Friday evening, approximately an hour prior to your employer’s death, you spent a few minutes alone with him. What was the nature of this visit?”
Did the butler do it? I’ll say only this: Trowbridge is one of numerous colorful, eccentric suspects who frequent the old gothic mansion where murder occurred. My influences are the Golden Age mystery writers—Agatha Christie, John Dickson Carr, Rex Stout—who established the genre. And a ghostly subplot never hurts...
Visit Michael Nethercott's website and Facebook page.

--Marshal Zeringue