Nethercott’s debut is a pleasantly retro whodunit, set in 1956, in which otherworldly spirits compete for attention with flesh-and-blood sitcom types.
Detective George Agnelli’s been on the job for 38 years, and when he says something smells fishy, you’ve got to listen to him. After they listen to him, private eye Lee Plunkett and his unlicensed partner, Mr. O’Nelligan, agree to investigate the death of wealthy inventor Trexler Lloyd, dead at a séance he hosted shortly after convening the Otherworld’s Fair. Agnelli’s suspicious of coroner Felix Emmitt, an associate of Lloyd’s, who just happened to be on hand to pronounce him electrocuted after the Spectricator, a gadget he developed to facilitate communication with the dead, added him to their number instead. As it happens, everyone else on the scene looks equally suspicious. Lloyd’s widow, Constanza, is so alluring that anyone might have done anything to win her. Celebrated medium C.R. Kemple has clearly been spending too much time among spirits. Ex–speak-easy queen Sassafras Miller might as well be on her own planet. The other participants in the séance, Loretta Mapes and Herb and Adelle Greer, are either desperate to contact their beloved dead or convinced they have the gift of second sight themselves. Even the household’s domestics seem to have stepped from the pages of Agatha Christie. Everything Lee and his courtly partner assumed about Lloyd’s death turns out to be wrong, in the fine tradition of Golden Age puzzlers. And like them, this one ends with a long explanatory denouement as logical as it is rickety.
A nostalgic blast from the past that conscientiously resurrects the strengths and weaknesses of its decorously wacky models.