Monday, October 07, 2013

Debut Mystery: THE SÉANCE SOCIETY, Michael Nethercott

Looking for a traditional mystery with memorable characters and clever twists of investigation and plot? Vermonter Michael Nethercott provides a cozy read in his debut detective novel, THE SÉANCE SOCIETY, set in 1956 Connecticut and introducing willing but inexperienced detective Lee Plunkett and his unusual sidekick, the Irish and bearded Mr. O'Nelligan.

Lee Plunkett is an accidental detective -- not quite a true amateur sleuth, he's fallen into the business role by inheriting it from his father but hasn't ever quote committed to it. The same applies personally, as he's more or less in love with his long-time fiancée, Audrey, and it's her connection with Mr. O'Nelligan, her neighbor, that brings the older gent into Lee's casework.

Hired by a police detective who's about to retire and doesn't want a poor result to his last case, Plunkett is soon investigating an untimely death, perhaps accidental electrocution, within a cadre of spiritualists -- whose performance he's already witnessed, in company with Mr. O'Nelligan and Audrey. Plunkett isn't convinced that the death is particularly significant or interesting, either. He comments to Audrey as he reads of the death, "Well, the man's bought his own ticket to spiritland." When she challenges his "rather callous" remark, he adds that it's "ironic that someone who's put so much effort into seeking out the company of ghosts --" and Audry caps him, "Should turn himself into one with some stupid mistake?"

Séances are performance art, Plunkett knows (and he's not the sort to contemplate big issues like Life Beyond Death anyway, so being a skeptic comes naturally to him). But he's no Sherlock Holmes, and lacks craft and flair. Instead, he's gifted with a stubborn refusal to accept what doesn't make sense -- and with the company of Mr. O'Nelligan, who is not going to let Audrey's boyfriend fail on this assignment. Between quotes from Irish bard Yeats and snippets of Irish parables and mottos, the older man shoves Plunkett into decisive action after all.

Nethercott provides a clever twist to "motive, means, opportunity" and insight into the machinations of spiritual fakery along the way. He also paints an enjoyably innocent time and place in America by choosing the 1950s. And he clearly has his mystery positioned for a series: goaded by career, fiancée, and Mr. O'Nelligan, Lee Plunkett shows promise as a detective after all. And maybe he'll even get around to marrying Audrey!

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