I met fellow Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine author Michael Nethercott at the Malice Domestic traditional mystery convention in May. Recipient of the The Black Orchid Novella Award for short fiction, Michael is a versatile writer who is also the author of two novels.
The 1950s post-war landscape… The energetic folk music revival… The rebellious Beat literary scene… Into that swirling Bohemia that was mid-century Greenwich Village, I’ve chosen to weave my latest storyline. Something about that time and place, with its spirited overlap of cultural currents, beckoned to me as I was deciding where to set my next mystery novel.
In The Haunting Ballad, a divisive folk song collector—a “songcatcher”—named Lorraine Cobble has taken a fatal plunge from the roof of her apartment building. Almost everyone—the police, her neighbors, the local musicians—accept her death as a suicide. Almost everyone. The one exception is Lorraine’s admiring young cousin who contends that the songcatcher didn’t jump from the rooftop—she was hurled off. The cousin’s conviction brings the deductive duo of O’Nelligan and Plunkett into the picture. Lee Plunkett is a reluctant young private eye with a somewhat meager skill set. Mr. O'Nelligan is a scholarly, idiosyncratic Irishman who’s the true sleuth of the team. Also in the blend is Lee’s “perpetual fiancée” Audrey who, just to complicate things, is captivated by a handsome, smooth-talking young singer who had a contentious relationship with Lorraine.
While certainly my characters are the stuff of fiction, I was inspired by the many vibrant types who once filled the Village streets and coffee houses. My suspects are a varied bunch: the detached Beat princess; the twitchy bookie, the hepcat ringmaster, the ex-con bluesman; the rollicking Irish balladeers; and the “ghost chanter” who sings tunes the dead have taught her. For good measure, there’s also a hundred-and-five-old Civil War drummer boy whose flirting skills are still intact.
In my writing, I take inspiration from the Golden Age experts—Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh, Rex Stout, Dorothy Sayers, etc.—and am very much an apostle of the “whodunit” piece of the pie. I always try to provider the reader with a sizable squad of suspects with shrouded backstories and secret motives. But alongside any tale’s colorful cast is the setting itself. A locale can have a nature and energy that makes it a character unto itself. And the Village of 1957, with all its shine and shadow, was certainly quite a character.
The Haunting Ballad (St. Martin’s Press) is the new whodunit in Michael Nethercott’s traditional 1950s mystery series. It features the sleuthing odd couple from The Séance Society: gumshoe. Lee Plunkett and erudite Irishman Mr. O’Nelligan.
Nethercott has won The Black Orchid Novella Award (for traditional mysteries), the Vermont Playwrights Award, the Nor’easter Play Writing Contest, the Vermont Writers’ Award, and the Clauder Competition (Best Vermont Play.) He has also been a Shamus Award finalist. His tales of mystery and the supernatural have appeared in numerous periodicals and anthologies including Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Best Crime and Mystery Stories of the Year, Thin Ice: Crime Stories by New England Writers, Crimestalkers Casebook, and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. He lives with his family in Vermont
Website: www.michaelnethercott.com/ (See Purchase page for ordering information.)
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