Interview: Michael Nethercott

Please welcome Michael Nethercott, author of The Séance Society, the first book in a new series.

What’s your idea of a perfect day?
Well, seeing as I’m answering this on a snowy New England afternoon, I’d say that any day where I don’t have to ice-rake our roof sounds delightful. As a writer, I value a day where I’ve carved out a sturdy three or four pages—that then hold up toSeance Society the next morning’s rereading.

Do you have a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase, or meal?
A color: Green. I’m very into my Irish roots and find myself gravitating towards emerald hues. On more than one occasion I’ve been berated by my kids for wearing solid green.

Excluding family, name three people who either inspired you or influenced your creativity.
In terms of my writing, I’d have to say Agatha Christie, who I read a ton of as a kid and who taught me the love of a twisty whodunit. She’s definitely the spiritual godmother of my own mystery writing. Then there’s John Steinbeck, whose solid storytelling really spoke to me. For a third choice, I’ll go with whoever edited that volume of Best Loved Poems that I hauled around throughout my boyhood.

Do you listen to music when you write?
I usually prefer quiet when I’m at the keyboard. If I do toss on any tunes, then it’s generally something instrumental, probably classical. On the other hand, when I write at a coffee shop, I’m at the whim of whatever the on-duty barista puts on—hopefully not Metallica.

If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?
Dark chocolate, 85% cocoa. Yeah, dark, mysterious, ghostly chocolate—to fit with the spooky atmosphere of my novel, The Séance Society. When murder intrudes on a group of ghost seekers, my detective duo is drawn into a murder investigation involving the “Spectricator,” a machine designed to communicate with the dead. There’s certainly a good dose of humor in the tale, but there’s plenty of shadow, as well. Dark, chocolaty shadow…

What made you interested in writing this particular story?
Growing up in my big, sprawling Irish-American extended family, I heard many (presumably) true accounts of spirits, prophetic dreams, and other supernatural doings. When I was choosing the theme of my first novel, the otherworldly just seemed a natural fit. I should say that The Séance Society is a “fair” whodunit in that the culprit is revealed to be a flesh-and-blood human—not a spook. So, I wouldn’t label my story as a straight supernatural mystery; more like a mystery with supernatural aspects.

What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?
Ghosts—both the vaporous ones and the ones that linger in any human life. And history—how various lives overlap with the culture and events of their times.

Tell us about your main characters’ psyche or personality. What led them to be the persons they are today?
In The Séance Society, set in the mid-1950’s, I have two protagonists—a pair of detectives who work together as team. Mr. O’Nelligan is an Irish-born widower in his early sixties living in the small town of Thetford, Connecticut. His past professions including train conductor, schoolteacher, bricklayer, door-to-door salesman and actor. Also, in his youth, he fought in his homeland as a rebel, though he prefers not to dwell on that period. He is a devotee of classic literature and quotes Shakespeare and William Butler Yeats freely. Mr. O’Nelligan could be described as witty, analytical, pragmatic, warm, compassionate and scholarly. He’s very high-minded and sees each case he embarks upon as a knightly quest. He fits the “amateur sleuth” designation, although he is, in fact, assisting an actual private eye, Lee Plunkett, a young man who has reluctantly inherited his father’s agency. Though Lee is the one with the official investigator’s license, he is, in a sense, actually the “Watson” of the duo, as well as the narrator. Though quick-witted, brave, and insightful in ways, Lee can be cynical and unsure of himself as a detective. He’s struggling to be more than his father’s son (and he has a spunky fiancée who helps him in this.) The unlikely pair of O’Nelligan and Plunkett forge a bond to take on matters of murder and mystery.

Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.
Mr. O’Nelligan: Poirot, Holmes, and the archetypal father-confessor.
Lee Plunkett: Watson, Archie Goodwin, and good ol’ Charlie Brown.

If you could host an author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?
Start with Dame Agatha and William Butler Yeats. Next, historian Doris Kearns Goodwin (‘cause I have a little literary crush on her.) And then Shakespeare (to grill him on whether he was indeed the one-and-only author of all those plays.) Oh, and Lincoln. (He wrote the Gettysburg Address—does that count?) And, lastly, maybe Hemingway… but I’d keep him away from the booze. Wouldn’t want any fistfights at the table.

What’s next for you?
The second book of my O’Nelligan/Plunkett series will be out this coming autumn and is titled The Haunting Ballad. It takes place in the spring of 1957, and Mr. O’Nelligan and Lee Plunkett, the detective team from The Séance Society, are summoned to Greenwich Village to investigate the death of a controversial songcatcher (folk song collector.) The trail leads the pair to a colorful group of suspects including an eccentric Beat coffee house owner, a family of Irish balladeers (who may be IRA), a bluesy ex-con, a hundred-and-five-year-old Civil War drummer boy, and a self-proclaimed “ghost chanter” who sings songs that she receives from the dead. To complicate matters, there’s a handsome, smooth-talking young folk singer who Lee’s fiancée Audrey is enthralled by. And somewhere in the Bohemian swirl of the Village, a killer waits…


Michael Nethercott is the author of new mystery series set in the 1950s. A traditional whodunit with supernatural undercurrents, his debut novel The Séance Society is published by St Martin’s Press (Minotaur/Thomas Dunne.) 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.



9 thoughts on “Interview: Michael Nethercott”

  1. Hi Michael! Did your copy of Best Loved Poems have “Barbara Fritchie” and “The Village Blacksmith?” I loved them–especially when Fritchie leans out the window and tells the soldiers to go ahead and shoot her but leave the flag alone. I’m pretty sure she called them “little punks” but that might have been hard to rhyme.

    The Seance Society sounds fascinating as do your characters and their relationship. Looking forward to reading it!


  2. Michael, I love, love, love your premise and your characters sound just quirky enough to be fascinating. In my must read pile now.


  3. Thanks for the kind words, all. And, yes, Donna, “Barbara Fritchie” and “The Village Blacksmith” were certainly represented. I always remember the line from Fritchie: “Who touches a hair of yon old gray head/ dies like a dog. Move on, he said.” (Or something akin to that…)


  4. Well, Cynthia, I’ve always liked erudite sleuths, so I needed to create one! Mr. O’Nelligan is staggeringly well-read (much more so than I) and can drop literary quotes with wild abandon.


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