BRATTLEBORO -- Author Michael Nethercott turned the tables on his interviewer by pouncing on the chance to ask the first question: "So, did you guess whodunit?"
My honest answer was an unequivocal "No."
Like much of Nethercott's debut novel, "The Seance Society," a classically styled mystery with an appealing pair of crimestoppers and an eclectic cast of characters, finding out "whodunit" was an intriguing surprise.
"The Seance Society" was released officially on Oct. 1 and has already garnered praise. Kirkus Reviews wrote "Nethercott's debut is a pleasantly retro whodunit." Booklist opined "There is a sweet charm to this, ensuring that readers will want to see more from (sleuths) O'Nelligan and Plunkett."
A long-time writer but first-time published novelist, Nethercott, who lives in Guilford, can be excused for feeling a little giddy that Minotaur Books, an imprint of St. Martin's Press, published "The Seance Society" and has contracted with him for a follow-up.
"I've always believed that if you write, you're a writer, whether you get published or not. I know it's somewhat delusional, but for me the fact that I have a hardcover, in-print book that you can hold in your hand, you feel like you've proved yourself," said Nethercott.
Known to many as the creator of the Bonnyvale Environmental Education Center's Forest of Mystery productions, Nethercott's tales of mystery and the supernatural have been published in many periodicals and anthologies. He won the Black Orchid Novella Award for traditional mysteries, the Vermont Playwrights Award, the Nor'easter Play Writing Contest and the Clauder Competition (Best Vermont Play).
On Saturday, Nethercott is one of four writers featured in a series of readings at Mystery on Main, 119 Main St., as part of the Brattleboro Literary Festival. Harold Schechter opens the readings at noon, followed by Nethercott at 1:15 p.m., Hilary Davidson at 2:30 p.m., and local favorite Archer Mayor at 4 p.m.
Set in 1956, "The Seance Society" follows an unlikely pair of detectives -- Lee Plunkett, the 20-something son of a private investigator who inherited his father's business and is struggling to find his way, and Mr. O'Nelligan, an older, Irish gentlemen with a fondness for literature and knack for detective work -- and their efforts to solve a murder that took place among a group of people trying to communicate with the dead. Suspects include a surly medium, a mysterious Spanish widow and her lover, a flamboyant former speakeasy queen and an eccentric crew of house servants.
Replete with red herrings, thrilling action sequences, tender introspective moments, a dangerous trip to Brattleboro in a blizzard, and the requisite scene at the end where all the suspects are gathered in a room to find out who the murderer is, "The Seance Society" is good fun, in the classic murder mystery style.
"The book is unabashedly retro in its reconnection with the traditional ‘Golden Age' mystery," said Nethercott, who hopes people will be grasping along with his characters to figure out whodunit. "When I used to read Agatha Christie one thing that I liked was that often she would fool me. I always enjoyed it more when she did that."
Beyond whodunit, Nethercott also writes with care about who's doing it. In "The Seance Society" is full of colorful characters, but also richly drawn characters, chiefly Plunkett, O'Nelligan and Plunkett's perpetual fiancée Audrey, who give the book a heart at its center.
"In my mind, the novel has two plotlines or storylines. One being the solving of this mystery and the other being Lee coming to grips with the figurative ghost of his father, and Mr. O'Nelligan in a sense becoming a father figure guiding him in how to see life."
Together these two plotlines weave themselves into a novel that blends intrigue and entertainment.
"The tone I was going for was to be colorful and quirky but also to have a grounding in real life," he said.
Nethercott first created the characters of Plunkett and O'Nelligan in his award-winning novella and wrote a couple of other short stories with them.
"I remember saying to my wife, ‘You know what? I think that I'm going to write a novel with these characters,'" he recalled.
That has happened. In fact, the second novel on his two-book contract with St. Martin's is completed and in the hands of his editor. Due out a year from now, the second novel, tentatively titled "Haunting Ballad," is set in 1950s Greenwich Village, and finds Plunkett and O'Nelligan rubbing elbows with beatniks and folk music fans.
For now, Nethercott is about to embark on what he calls his "free-loader tour," plugging the book in the region and crashing on friends' couches when he has to travel.
Upcoming appearances include this Sunday at the Toadstool Bookshop in Keene, N.H., at 4 p.m.,, and Saturday, Oct. 12, at Bartleby's Books in Wilmington at 2 p.m.