Murder In Chatham: Town, Monomoy Inspire New Mystery Novel

By: Debra Lawless

Topics: Local authors

Author Todd Forrest Sherman. COURTESY PHOTO

“Into the Realm” (BooxAI, 2022), Todd Forrest Sherman’s debut novel, serves up plenty of Cape Cod atmosphere with just the right dose of Monomoy creepiness.

Sherman, 56, a seventh-generation Cape Codder who lives in his hometown of Hyannis, sets his novel in Chatham.

Sherman has taken the pseudonym Todd Forrest, dropping his surname. Complicating matters further, his character’s name is Caleb Forrest. So is this book a roman a clef? Sherman says no.

“It sounds like autobiography, but it isn’t,” he said during a telephone interview last week.

Sherman is the older brother of Casey Sherman, the bestselling co-author with Michael J. Tougias of “The Finest Hours” and more recently author of “Helltown: The Untold Story of a Serial Killer on Cape Cod.” Todd Sherman graduated from San Francisco State College with a degree in English literature and screenwriting. Since then he has been a Ragdale Foundation Writing Fellow.

“Into the Realm” has been percolating in Sherman’s mind for a long time. He started writing the short story behind the novel during his senior year at Barnstable High, then returned to it while living in Key West. After a lightning storm in Key West destroyed his laptop, he had to recreate the fiction anew. He has worked on the book on the East and West Coasts, in bus stations, train stations and on airplanes. The current iteration of the novel took at least eight years to complete.

The novel opens in 1988, one year after 22-year-old Caleb, the first-person narrator, confides in us that he murdered someone at the dilapidated Chatham house that has been in his seafaring family for generations. The house, inhabited by Caleb and Gramp, who is “pushing 80,” a retired ship’s captain and former rum-runner, is in such a mess that items normally stored in a shed or outdoors are inside. Take the “decades-old lobster trap encased in petrified sea lettuce and smelling of rotten fish.” Or the “moth-eaten spool of sailcloth.” Newspapers are piled high while some rooms are locked shut. Mice roam the house.

“Caleb is like an indentured servant to his grandfather,” Sherman says. In fact, Caleb has to work to keep the two in grocery money, and to retain his grandfather’s land — 600 acres in all.

Sherman says he is descended from William “the Pilgrim” Sherman, who came to Plymouth in 1629, and a respect for past generations of Cape Codders runs through the book. In the book, Caleb’s ancestor, whaling Captain Nehi, planned to farm. However, the farm was ill-situated, and “wherever an ancestor chose to sink his plow, a river of broken oyster and clamshell was sure to see the light of day, thus making the soil all but impossible to till.” This sent generations of Forrest men to sea.

Caleb, a commercial fisherman, departs on his boat, Sea Gypsy. The name shows Caleb’s affinity for the boat which is “without any permanent mooring, drifting with the currents and sailing against the tides with no particular fixed heading as I like to do.” Caleb keeps Sea Gypsy in a swamp.

On this particular day, Caleb’s destination is the tip of Monomoy, where he plans a showdown with a ranger, name of Tiger, a showdown that is in some way connected to the “justified” murder of the previous year.

Sherman describes his own visit to Monomoy and the lighthouse as giving him the feeling of “being the last man on earth. It’s really cool out there.”

In recent years Monomoy has provided fertile imaginary terrain for two other novelists who set their novels in Chatham and Monomoy. Author Keith Yocum’s seventh novel, “A Whisper Came” is a suspenseful murder mystery set largely in Chatham and on Monomoy. And John Beneville’s mystery “Roger Sherman III and the Seal Murder Mystery” also takes a swing out to Monomoy.

In the mid-19th century, Monomoy’s tip was home to Whitewash Village, which boasted houses, shacks and even a hotel for the fishermen and seafarers who lived there. Children were schooled there. The village was built around a deep harbor called the Powder Hole. The Powder Hole is Caleb’s destination on his sinister mission on Monomoy. To find out what exactly Caleb is up to, you’ll have to read “Into the Realm.”

“Into the Realm” has garnered rave reviews from William Martin, the bestselling author of “Cape Cod,” and from Sherman’s brother Casey. Martin says the tale “feels as familiar as the sand in your shoes, yet as fresh as a bright beach day after a week of rain.” Casey Sherman says the book is “up there with the greatest books ever written about Cape Cod.”

Todd Sherman has a second novel ready to publish — this one is a comedy about Charles Manson’s illegitimate son, a “good serial killer.”

Sherman will sign copies of “Into the Realm” at Yellow Umbrella Books in Chatham on Saturday, Sept. 24, from 1 to 3 p.m. For more information, call the store at 508-945-0144.