The dog days of August are worrying us like a mongrel with a juicy bone. Indeed, as this latest issue of Orphan Scrivener is being written, crispy yellowed leaves occasionally float by the window as distressed trees begin to shed their dusty summer foliage. This autumnal sight reminds us that in a fortnight or so it will be Labour Day, traditionally marking the end of summer, and soon autumn tints will begin to wash across the hills in glorious bands of colour -- assuming, of course, there are any leaves left on the trees at all by then.

But already the nights are drawing in and the sunshine is noticeably thinner. The quality of light has changed, becoming almost melancholy. Although autumn brings the fruitful harvest along with mists and cooler nights, still and all, it reminds us too that winter will soon be coming down the pike and another year is starting to draw to a close. Just like those seared leaves, time floats by, bringing with it the tenth issue of Orphan Scrivener -- but as to whether you'll find this newsletter fruitful or melancholy, the only way to find out is to read on!


Although Mary and I have written nothing but mysteries together, my own roots are planted in Middle Earth. Well, actually in fantasy in general. They descend deep into the rusty sands of Mars and seek out cracks in the eroded pavements of lost cities. While growing up I read Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, not to mention science fiction and fantasy classics, Tom Swift Jr. and the ghost stories of M.R. James. It was only later I turned to mysteries, so it is not surprising that the John the Eunuch novels I've co-written all contain distinct elements of the fantastic.

One For Sorrow involved the Holy Grail and an ancient soothsayer. Two For Joy featured spontaneously combusting stylites and a miracle-working holy man. Three For A Letter continues the tradition, surrounding John and his companions with such arcana as automatons, a magical whale and a herd of fortune-telling goats.

Not exactly the stuff of gritty police procedurals or legal thrillers, I agree. I doubt I'll ever write those. Perhaps this is an admission I shouldn't make but I've never had much interest in exactly what police do, and thanks to my time in law school, I know entirely too much about how the legal system works. What interests me more than the cold, grinding, machinery of our society are those ethereal possibilities that still float around the edges of matters about which we are all too certain.

Mysteries often deal with the seemingly fantastic, if only to debunk it and deliver the logical solution which, according to some, is the point of the genre. Yet consider The Hound of the Baskervilles with its glowing apparition. For me, the memory of the story has more to do with the aura of the supernatural that permeates it than with its solution.

My fantasy roots probably explain why locked room mysteries, like so many of Ed Hoch's short stories, have always been favorites and, I admit, not really for the clever explanations either. One of Mr. Hoch's Doctor Sam Hawthorne stories began with a missing wagon and wagon tracks in the snow leading onto a covered bridge but not out the other side. When I read it, I started wracking my brain for the explanation. But as interesting as it was to try and solve the puzzle, and as satisfying (or aggravating in a "why-didn't-I-think-of-that way) as the solution was, well, my strongest recollection is still that frisson I had thinking about the wagon's "impossible" disappearance.

Writing about locked room mysteries reminds me of a truly great one from the 1930s -- Obelists Fly High by C. Daly King. A murder occurs during a mid-thirties transcontinental flight and the book is worthwhile just for its description of that alone. But aside from the impossible crime there is another fantastic element to the novel -- the word "Obelist"! I have been unable to find this word in any dictionary or even on the Internet and yet there it sits, in a title no less.

So if anyone has the solution, I'd be happy to hear it and we will of course share it in our next newsletter.


It's one of the shortest BSP Tickers on record this time around so we'll get right to it.

The lush green and gold cover of Two For Joy will reappear on book shelves in October when the paperback edition is issued, and speaking of covers, while the author of The British Grenadiers made the interesting claim that some folk talked of Alexander and others of Hercules, we'd like to talk about the cover of Three For A Letter. It's been unveiled since the last newsletter came out and the design department of Poisoned Pen Press has Done It Again, for it's another stunner. If you'd care to take a glance, feel free to point your clicker to

but, please, no jokes about characters looking sheepish!


Eric's Bit mentions M. R. James, one of my favourite authors, and I was recently fortunate enough to discover a story of his that was new to me. A School Story relates a tale about G. W. Sampson, who teaches Latin at a boy's school. His watch chain has suspended from it a charm which is an ancient gold Byzantine coin that he'd picked up in Constantinople. Or so he says. For a Latin teacher, he doesn't seem too concerned about defacing this old coin by scratching it with his initials and a date. But then again there is definitely something mysterious, not quite right, about G. W. Sampson. But to return to our muttons, as the French say (it seems we cannot escape sheep this time around). As A School Story unfolded, I spied a small mystery in that the teacher's scratched initials of GWS most certainly were not being used in the usual short-hand fashion for a kind wish that Mr Sampson would quickly recover good health. However, bearing in mind that scholars tell us that the Byzantines loved puns, like Miss Anne Elk of Monty Python fame, I have a theory. Warning: egregious spoiler coming up in next line.

Sure you want to read on?

OK, then. My theory is that the initials are connected in a particularly Jamesian sort of way with the well featured in the story. But then what are we to make of the date also scratched on that old Byzantine coin? Was it of some significance to Mr James, who was only a toddler on 24 July l865? It's a knotty problem over which I'm still puzzling, but in the meantime, Lost Hearts, The Mezzotint, Canon Alberic's Scrapbook and Room l3 are among the stories to be found at


It'll be somewhat cooler by the time that the next Orphan Scrivener trundles into your email in-box on October l5, a day or so after Fontinalia, the Roman festival honouring Fontus, god of springs and wells. In an outstanding example of the survival of old customs under different names, Fontinalia lives on in the well-dressing ceremonies still carried out in parts of England at various dates between May and September. For these, "dressing" involves very detailed pictures, often with a religious theme, that are made by villagers using natural materials such as petals, leaves and moss pressed into trays of clay. The trays are displayed next to the wells during the celebrations and more often than not that other good old British institution, the brass band, participates in the jamboree. And, in a link back to the old Roman festival, the highlight of the event is always the blessing of the well by the local vicar.

On which watery note, we'll close by wishing you all well, and see you again in October.

Mary and Eric

whose home page lurks about at

Therein you'll find the usual suspects plus more personal essays, an interactive game and an on-line jigsaw puzzle (at least for those who have java-enabled browsers) featuring One For Sorrow's eye-catching scarlet cover. We also now have a work-in-progress, to wit, a page listing mystery-related newsletters (print and email). For those new to the subscription list, there's also the Orphan Scrivener archive, so don't say you weren't warned!

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