Edith again, happily on a solo writing retreat in Maine
We welcome our fellow New England author Michael Nethercott today. His new
Blog entry: It’s the spring of 1957, and amidst the swirling music scene of New York’s Greenwich Village, a controversial songcatcher—a folk song collector—has died. Apparently, one late-winter’s night, she climbed to the roof of her apartment building and jumped over the edge. Jumped—or was she pushed?
That’s the kickoff of my new novel, The Haunting Ballad. In looking for a locale/theme for the latest entry in my mid-1950s series, I asked myself what cultural currents were in motion at that time. Well, one particularly lively one was the folk music movement that was just starting to skyrocket in ’57. In the urban centers such as New York and San Francisco, this movement overlapped with the rebellious Beat scene spearheaded by
I found myself mentally flipping through the catalogue of musicians whose careers were thriving—or on the verge of taking off—in that time and place: Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Odetta, the Clancy Brothers, and the various blues singers whose music was finding a new audience. This colorful crowd became an inspiration as I carved out my characters and plot threads. In my writing, I very much take my cue from the Golden Age mystery novelists—Agatha Christie, Rex Stout, Dorothy Sayers, etc.—and I take the “whodunit” piece seriously. I try to give the reader a large assortment of possible guilty parties. In this tale, the songcatcher’s demise leads Plunkett and O’Nelligan to a pretty varied jumble of suspects. There’s the bluesman with a checkered past, the eccentric coffee house owner, the moody Bohemian poetess, the boisterous clan of Irish balladeers, and a former Civil War drummer boy who has a hundred and five years under his belt.
Then there’s Mrs. Pattinshell, who labels herself a “ghost chanter”—meaning she sings songs that she claims the spirits of the dead have taught her. I grew up in a vast extended Irish family where presumably true ghost stories were bandied about like ping-pong balls. This definitely influenced me as an author. Something of the supernatural, the ghostly, always seems to find its way into my stories, and the present novel is no exception. Matter of fact, Mrs. Pattinshell’s spooky ditties are at the heart of the mystery. Hence the book’s title.
Fortunately, I have an old friend who lives in the Village, whom I was able to stay with for a few days as I was doing my research. Though more than a half century has passed since the time of the folk music revival, I was able to walk those sidewalks and cobblestones and imagine what once was. I could almost catch the lost strains of acoustic guitars drifting down a corridor of phantom coffee houses. It sounded good…
Michael Nethercott’s work has appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies including Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Best Crime and Mystery Stories of the Year, and the Level Best anthologies. He is a Shamus Award finalist and a past winner of The Black Orchid Novella Award, The Vermont Playwrights Award, and Vermont Writer’s Award. Visit Michael Nethercott’s website and Facebook page.