Emerson characterised the sky as daily bread for the eyes, but during the last few days our sullen skies suggest the loaf in question more resembles the greyish National Loaf of wartime Britain. Got a while to spend loafing around for a while? Then feel free to continue perusing this new issue of our newsletter....


It's no secret I enjoy classic tales of the supernatural and while E. F. Benson and E. & H. Heron are particular favourites, for me M. R. James roolz. I especially love his mannered, atmospheric ghost stories for the way in which he integrates everyday situations into truly unsettling plots, wherein a seemingly harmless event opens the door to a truly dark place.

As James notes of A Neighbour’s Landmark, "Those who spend the greater part of their time in reading or writing books are, of course, apt to take rather particular notice of accumulations of books when they come across them. They will not pass a stall, a shop, or even a bedroom-shelf without reading some title, and if they find themselves in an unfamiliar library, no host need trouble himself further about their entertainment."

We've all been there, right? I certainly have and, while recently re-reading James' fiction, jotted down a few things learnt while doing so, more by way of warnings to the curious than entertainment as such.

* Shun books in which pieces of paper are shut up.

* The same applies to diaries with a small piece of patterned cloth pinned to one page.

* Ditto scrap-books containing leaves from illuminated manuscripts, especially if compiled by eminent ecclesiastical gentlemen.

* Don't lose your music concert programme. If you do, don't accept anyone else's.

* Purchasing antiques, say a mezzotint depicting an unknown manor-house or an attractive doll's house, will likely bring trouble in their wake.

* Flee a hotel room wherein the number of its windows change at a time when no structural rehabilitation is being carried on.

* The same caveat applies to a room in which crumpled linen bedsheets will not behave.

* Under no circumstances pick up a whistle and tootle on it. Policemen will not appear as a result, but something else might.

* Open air seaside entertainments may turn sinister at the drop of a hat, so watch from afar.

* Don't attempt to find out why an inn room or an old press are always kept locked.

* Never investigate wells too closely. Especially if the well in question happens to be located in a clump of trees.

* Deciphering a code is an excellent intellectual exercise, but it's best not to follow up what you discover from it.

* It's unwise to stroll around a playing field after dark or down a certain country lane at any time.

* Leave archaeological digs to archaeologists.

Fortunately readers are able play it safe by reading James' supernatural collections from a distance, which is to say by perusing them online via With no physical presence there can be nothing nasty lurking between their leaves, which is where pretty much where we came in.


Speaking of an old press, an announcement relating to one such starts this month's ticker a-going....


Bound By Mystery: Celebrating 20 Years of Poisoned Pen Press will be published next month. Edited by Diane DiBiase, the collection offers original short stories from thirty-five of its authors. A list of contributors, along with mini biographies, is to be found here:

The cover features PPP's new logo, depicting a man literally bound up in mystery. At first glance it resembles the Mithraic Kronos, representing infinite time (such as the figure at Why do we mention a remarkable double coincidence in connection with the collection? Well, the reason for its publication is connected to time -- twenty years in this case -- plus our contribution is a Lord Chamberlain investigation entitled (flourish of trumpets) Time's Revenge.

Stop press: PW's review of the collection has just appeared online at


Eric Reed, our not so secret shadow identity, time-travelled back to December 1941 when writing Ruined Stones, sequel to The Guardian Stones. ARCs are going out even as we type. As is noted in our afterward, a number of World War Two mysteries are set in London -- often during the Blitz -- so it was decided to send protagonist Grace Baxter up to Newcastle-on-Tyne at the opposite end of England. Her arrival coincides with the discovery of the body of a young woman, curiously difficult to identify, at the still existing scanty ruins of a Roman temple in the Benwell area of the city, not that far from where Mary grew up. More details at


Since our last issue we've added four more Golden Age mystery reviews to our blog, being Death of a Viewer by Herbert Adams, John Bude's The Lake District Murder, Agatha Christie's classic yarn And Then There Were None, and S. S. Van Dine's The Scarab Murder Case. Details may be detected by pointing your clicker at


Mid-February. "Is winter ever going to end?" time in the Northeast. The pines beyond our windows bend away from a frigid wind that coats their trunks with snow. We're in for fifty mile an hour gusts according to the weatherman. I wouldn't be surprised to look out and see Lucifer up to his waist in ice, flapping his leathery wings in our direction. Before long we'll be subsisting on instant macaroni and cheese and tinned soup because I can't get the car to the road through the snow and ice. At least I haven't yet had to crawl into the Ninth Circle annex under the house to thaw a water pipe. What fun. Three A.M. and zero degrees. Stygian darkness conceals frosted cobwebs and huge spiders brittle with cold. Not to mention there's not enough room to swing a frozen sinner.

No, I don't like winter. And the older I get the longer and colder the winters get.

To find some good memories of winter I need to look back, past those thirty inch snowfalls in Rochester, past the face-numbing gales shrieking through the New York City skyscraper canyons, past winter commutes to college in an old busted heater Plymouth made of rust and holes held together with fiberglass patches. The tires were bald as an octogenarian skinhead just back from the barber. Twice I executed a 360 degree spinout climbing the steep, sharp, curve by the power station. Luckily none of the gravel trucks that frequented that stretch of highway were coming. My worries about winters would have been over.

I have to go back to early childhood to find a time when I had any use for winter. Like all kids I loved building snowmen. My mittens were soaked through and my hands stung with cold before I finished -- you need wet snow for a decent snowman. Still, there's nothing like giving your own creation a carrot nose and two eyes. My grandparents, who lived next door, heated with coal so my snowmen always had 100% authentic coal lump eyes.

There was also sledding on the big hill that was part of the local college campus. Everyone in town headed there after a snowfall. That was another era. The public is banned these days when we're all in thrall to lawsuits and insurance premiums. I guess we wouldn't have been allowed to ride our flying saucers on the wooded hillside just down the street either. We weren't sure who owned those woods. Whoever it was never warned us off. We dug and banked snow to construct runs that wound in and out through the trees. I got more than one mouthful of snow when my flying saucer overturned or left the track. But that was fine. Eating fresh snow was another of winter's pleasures.

Most of the winter activities I enjoyed would be forbidden today. No farmer would allow kids to skate on the frozen pond in his cow pasture. I quickly lost feeling in my feet and ended up gliding around the ice -- or falling on my butt mostly -- on empty skates. Or so it seemed. But the warmth of home was only a block away. There was something magical about the pond. Glinting beneath our skates, embedded in the ice, were goldfish. We liked to pretend that come spring they thawed out and resumed swimming.

Now I sit here and shiver despite the space heater which doesn't quite drown out the wind. What I imagine is that the wind and the growling of trucks on the highway and creaking of the house is the sound of ice-bound Lucifer masticating Cassius, Brutus, and Judas Iscariot not far away.


We've reached the point where we remind subscribers of the date of the next issue of Orphan Scrivener. That day of distant misery (chapeau tip to Edward Gibbons) in this particular instance is April 15th.

See you then!
Mary R and Eric

who invite you to visit their home page, to be found hanging out on the virtual washing line that is the Web at There you'll discover the usual suspects, including more personal essays, a bibliography, and our growing libraries of links to free e-texts of classic and Golden Age mysteries, ghost stories, and tales of the supernatural. There's also the Orphan Scrivener archive, so don't say you weren't warned! Our joint blog is at Intrepid subscribers may also wish to know our noms des Twitter are @marymaywrite and @groggytales Drop in some time!

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