Monomoy Is The Setting For 'Seal Murder Mystery'

By: Debra Lawless

Topics: Local authors

Author John Beneville. COURTESY PHOTO

 It seems like it has been quite a while since we have read a new mystery set in Chatham, and that is what we have with “Roger Sherman III and the Seal Murder Mystery” (2020), a debut novel by Chatham summer resident John Beneville.

Beneville, a 2016 graduate of Dartmouth College who grew up in Cos Cob, Conn., has been coming to Chatham with his parents and grandparents since he was very young.

“My parents met in Chatham, at the Squire, so it’s always been a special place for our family,” he said during a recent email interview.

Chatham’s natural environment particularly interested the budding novelist as he grew up. He graduated from catching minnows, eels and crabs to fishing for stripers off the tip of Monomoy with his father. And that is how Monomoy, where a large part of the novel is set, caught his eye.

“Monomoy Island is such a wild place – the idea that there are hidden ponds, an old lighthouse, the sand-covered remnants of an old town – it's all very mysterious, in a way,” Beneville says. Part of what fascinates Beneville is Monomoy’s long-gone built past — Whitewash Village, located about a mile beyond the Monomoy Lighthouse, had houses, a school, and even a hotel of sorts.

And today, “you have the human presence of fishermen and tourists and shellfishermen, all of whom visit the island and coexist with it. The potential for a ‘Seal Murder Mystery’ occurred to me after reading about complaints about the large seal population. A lot of fishermen feel that the seals have become overpopulated and blame the seals for a decline in fishing stocks,” Beneville says. “It didn't seem too farfetched to imagine someone who would take matters into their own hands and decide to kill off some of the seals. That’s, ultimately, the crime that Roger Sherman III and the two boys try to solve.”

The novel opens as 13-year-old friends Henry and Dylan are exploring “a barren spit of beach” on Monomoy. The first spot a massive gray seal that was shot dead – and then a Jeep. A Jeep, out here? This leads them rapidly to the Jeep’s owner, Roger Sherman III, a man of about 70 who in quick order proves himself to be deeply eccentric. Sherman, in fact, harkens back to the characters who populated the novels of Chatham’s author Joseph C. Lincoln, the kind of idiosyncratic figures who live close by the sea and use “sea-robin-rabble-rousers” as an insult.

“The character of Roger Sherman III was inspired by a combination of people. I think of my grandfather, who was so steadfast and strong even in his old age. I also think of an old, seasoned mariner, a little politically incorrect, not really sold on what the modern world has to offer him,” Beneville says. “In some ways, Roger Sherman III doesn't quite get it – there's a clear generational divide between him and the other two boys, and sometimes it makes him look and feel a little ridiculous. At the same time, however, he understands far more than they do, if only he could get them to believe in the world he's imagined for them.”

And what a world Roger Sherman III has concocted. His home in the Monomoy Light is protected by four-leafed poison ivy, mosquitoes the size of chihuahuas and a pet coyote named Rico.

The boys team up with Roger Sherman III in investigating the deaths of the seals, apparently gunned down by a “madman and his pet rat” Malum who travel around on a boat called “Rattus Pestis.” The “madman” lives in a termite-ridden oyster shack. The big question of this adventure is who will prevail — the madman or the team led by Roger Sherman III?

For those of us who love books with Chatham settings, this one does not disappoint. Among other places, the Chatham Squire and the parking lot of Larry’s PX make cameo appearances.

These days Beneville is employed teaching English at a high school in Westchester County, after teaching elementary school in the Bronx for three years. He wrote “Roger Sherman III” over the course of three summers.

“I’m usually in and out of Chatham, which continues to feed into my creative writing,” he says.

Although he majored in English in college, he didn’t begin writing fiction until his senior year.

“One summer, while working at Cape Cod Sea Camps, I read the complete collection of Ernest Hemingway’s short stories, which inspired me to try to write some of my own stories,” he says. In fact, one chapter is titled “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” a nod to Hemingway’s 1940 novel.

“Roger Sherman III” ends with two appendices. One is the letters of Roger Sherman III, while the other is his cocktail recipes. The drink “Away in Mexico” calls for tequila and “the thrill of the chase.”

And as for what’s next, Beneville says, “I'm hoping to write a sequel in which Henry, now 18 years old, returns to Dartmouth with Roger Sherman III.”

“Roger Sherman III and the Seal Murder Mystery” is available at Yellow Umbrella Books in Chatham.

 

 

It seems like it has been quite a while since we have read a new mystery set in Chatham, and that is what we have with “Roger Sherman III and the Seal Murder Mystery” (2020), a debut novel by Chatham summer resident John Beneville.Beneville, a 2016 graduate of Dartmouth College who grew up in Cos Cob, Conn., has been coming to Chatham with his parents and grandparents since he was very young.“My parents met in Chatham, at the Squire, so it’s always been a special place for our family,” he said during a recent email interview.Chatham’s natural environment particularly interested the budding novelist as he grew up. He graduated from catching minnows, eels and crabs to fishing for stripers off the tip of Monomoy with his father. And that is how Monomoy, where a large part of the novel is set, caught his eye. “Monomoy Island is such a wild place – the idea that there are hidden ponds, an old lighthouse, the sand-covered remnants of an old town – it's all very mysterious, in a way,” Beneville says. Part of what fascinates Beneville is Monomoy’s long-gone built past — Whitewash Village, located about a mile beyond the Monomoy Lighthouse, had houses, a school, and even a hotel of sorts. And today, “you have the human presence of fishermen and tourists and shellfishermen, all of whom visit the island and coexist with it. The potential for a ‘Seal Murder Mystery’ occurred to me after reading about complaints about the large seal population. A lot of fishermen feel that the seals have become overpopulated and blame the seals for a decline in fishing stocks,” Beneville says. “It didn't seem too farfetched to imagine someone who would take matters into their own hands and decide to kill off some of the seals. That’s, ultimately, the crime that Roger Sherman III and the two boys try to solve.” The novel opens as 13-year-old friends Henry and Dylan are exploring “a barren spit of beach” on Monomoy. The first spot a massive gray seal that was shot dead – and then a Jeep. A Jeep, out here? This leads them rapidly to the Jeep’s owner, Roger Sherman III, a man of about 70 who in quick order proves himself to be deeply eccentric. Sherman, in fact, harkens back to the characters who populated the novels of Chatham’s author Joseph C. Lincoln, the kind of idiosyncratic figures who live close by the sea and use “sea-robin-rabble-rousers” as an insult. “The character of Roger Sherman III was inspired by a combination of people. I think of my grandfather, who was so steadfast and strong even in his old age. I also think of an old, seasoned mariner, a little politically incorrect, not really sold on what the modern world has to offer him,” Beneville says. “In some ways, Roger Sherman III doesn't quite get it – there's a clear generational divide between him and the other two boys, and sometimes it makes him look and feel a little ridiculous. At the same time, however, he understands far more than they do, if only he could get them to believe in the world he's imagined for them.” And what a world Roger Sherman III has concocted. His home in the Monomoy Light is protected by four-leafed poison ivy, mosquitoes the size of chihuahuas and a pet coyote named Rico. The boys team up with Roger Sherman III in investigating the deaths of the seals, apparently gunned down by a “madman and his pet rat” Malum who travel around on a boat called “Rattus Pestis.” The “madman” lives in a termite-ridden oyster shack. The big question of this adventure is who will prevail — the madman or the team led by Roger Sherman III? For those of us who love books with Chatham settings, this one does not disappoint. Among other places, the Chatham Squire and the parking lot of Larry’s PX make cameo appearances. These days Beneville is employed teaching English at a high school in Westchester County, after teaching elementary school in the Bronx for three years. He wrote “Roger Sherman III” over the course of three summers. “I’m usually in and out of Chatham, which continues to feed into my creative writing,” he says.Although he majored in English in college, he didn’t begin writing fiction until his senior year.“One summer, while working at Cape Cod Sea Camps, I read the complete collection of Ernest Hemingway’s short stories, which inspired me to try to write some of my own stories,” he says. In fact, one chapter is titled “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” a nod to Hemingway’s 1940 novel.“Roger Sherman III” ends with two appendices. One is the letters of Roger Sherman III, while the other is his cocktail recipes. The drink “Away in Mexico” calls for tequila and “the thrill of the chase.” And as for what’s next, Beneville says, “I'm hoping to write a sequel in which Henry, now 18 years old, returns to Dartmouth with Roger Sherman III.” “Roger Sherman III and the Seal Murder Mystery” is available at Yellow Umbrella Books in Chatham.