We began writing this issue to the mournful accompaniment of wailing high winds, bringing to mind Wallace Stevens' description of tempests as worse than the revenge bassoons take on music. Had there been wind harps hanging in the surrounding woods they would have long since soared over the horizon and far away. With the arrival of this latest newsletter some subscribers might well wish the same would happen to this issue, but those made of sterner stuff may like to face the music and read on....


The winds of fortune brought the two of us to Pennsylvania, but they couldn't dispel the heavy fog that morning.

We'd not long arrived in the state and after several days of rain we awoke to the sort of really thick fog from which patrons of horror films would expect a mummy to suddenly lurch through the French windows, intent on strangling those who desecrated its tomb with its spicy-scented bandages, assuming its parchment-skinned hands were not up to the task.

A quick glance outside revealed that much was concealed by the thick, coiled miasma draping the landscape with swirling wedding veils of white silk. When we went out for our morning walk, we found ourselves in an eerie world, one where sounds were muffled and the light had a strange quality to it. As we ambled along the narrow road up to the ridge overlooking the valley, what little could be seen faded from view as we moved forward in a world of clinging mist. If we glanced back, the tall grass verges and trees marking field boundaries soon disappeared behind a pale wall of vapour, and looking ahead we found ourselves advancing into a curtain of white that seemed to move with us, as if it was subtly shepherding us along the stony road.

We walked onwards and upwards. Numerous spider webs, little parachutes in the wet grass or decorating vines hanging in garlands from telephone lines, were heavy with droplets. Oddly suggestive rustlings came from the undergrowth along both sides of us, where tangles of blackberry bushes grew and rabbits could be counted by the dozen towards sunset most evenings. It was as if something was pacing us. A fox? We'd once seen one cutting through a half-mown field. Perhaps it was a bobcat on its way back to its den, possibly the handsome specimen seen crossing the track up there one time.

We finally reached the crest, where the oil-and-chipped road poises to take a breath before plunging dizzily down towards civilization. In better weather we could have observed six or seven mountains playing footsie with each other on the other side of the valley, but that morning we could hardly see into the nearest field. We stood for a while listening as the clammy quiet thought about departing. Birds began to tune up for their morning concert and somewhere close by a crow with a sore throat started to engage in his usual morning croaking duel with his rival across the way. We looked a little longer into milky nothingness, and then turned back along the foggy way, leaving the hidden heights to honeysuckle and dark aisles of firs and whatever creatures were moving in them. Our little pocket of visibility moved with us. We never reached the barrier of fog hanging across the road ahead, no matter how far we walked towards it.

The philosophical will, no doubt, find this odd effect a perfect metaphor for life.


It's been a quiet couple of months but the ticker still has a little news to report, and here it is.


Michelle Moran, author of Nefertiti and The Heretic Queen, wrote the cover story for the November 2008 issue of Solander, the magazine of the Historical Novel Society Her topic was The Power of Place and she interviewed a number of historical novelists about visiting the places in which their works are set. We are honoured to report we were included among them, and thank Michelle for her interest in our thoughts.


Patricia Abbott's blog features Forgotten Books each Friday, and a day or so ago Mary contributed a few lines about J. B. Bell's 1917 novel 'Till The Clock Stops. As Mary said, the book could well have been subtitled The Wandering Green Box, for said receptacle appears and disappears more than once in mysterious fashion. Then there are the peculiar instructions left by a man now dead concerning the titular timepiece and that's not the half of it. Although written at a gentler pace than modern mysteries this and the other forgotten books reviewed on Patricia's blog are well worth a look.


Jean Henry Mead is the author of A Village Shattered, a senior sleuth novel. In the middle of moving house, she found time to interview us for her January 30th Mysterious People blog Among other topics we talked about what we'd do if we were not writing and real people who appear in our works. It was more fun than a trunk full of monkeys, so Mary returned to the scene of the crime next day to pass along comments on the genre from six historical mystery authors -- in a 500 or so word blog! It was a struggle to stay within the allotted space -- talk about writing lean! Our thanks to Jean for her interest and for allowing us all to air our thoughts.


I recently caught a taxi into town in order to empty our Post Office box.

We get snowed in out here in the countryside, at the end of a steep private right-of-way beyond which lies the top of another drop and a narrow strip of decayed macadam that plunges down to the state road through two hairpin curves. The macadam drive catches the run-off from the mountain. In the summer it's a creek, in the winter a glacier.

So we stock up in the autumn. A huge harvest of tinned goods. Most importantly we make sure there's plenty of coffee. By spring we may be very thin but at least we will be awake.

And, oh yes, cat treats. We mustn't forget those either.

But we can't stock up on mail or even forgo it for months on end. We would just as soon conduct all our business electronically. Alas, there are those who will insist on paper checks and contracts and even a few who refuse to bill except the old-fashioned way. Then there are the junk mailers, the purveyors of fliers for local stores, who take advantage of the box we maintain out of necessity. (No, I do not need three tins of vegetables for the price of two. We still have five dozen in stock.) When we reckon the box must be stuffed to overflowing I call the taxi service.

Until recently, the last time I took a taxi was my last visit to New York City more than fifteen years ago. During the years I lived in the city, when I was going to school, I rarely used taxis. Subway fares matched my budget better. I did, however, learn how to flag down a ride if I really needed one.

My single visit to New York since then only lasted a few hours. A magazine aimed at high school English students for which I'd done some freelance work sent me to interview Nicole St. John, the author of numerous young adult books ranging from mystery novels to histories. While Jane Yolen and Jeannie Moos had been happy to do phone interviews (this being before the age of email) Ms. St. John stood on her right to be interviewed in person, during high tea at the Helmsley Palace.

The train pulled into Penn Station late. Taking the subway was out of the question. I am not normally a very assertive sort of person, but it is amazing what a whiff of those heady Manhattan exhaust fumes will do. My city skills momentarily came back to me. I strode out of the station, barged straight through tourists milling timidly on the sidewalk, stepped into the street, grabbed the side mirror of the first Yellow Cab I saw, and wrestled it to the curb.

The cabby obligingly made an illegal U-turn against eight lanes of onrushing traffic and delivered me to the Palace dining room in plenty of time to juggle tape recorder, pen, notebook, and cucumber sandwiches. Such small sandwiches and biscuits for such a large room! The ceiling must have been three stories high. The place was filled with the sound of unseen violins and the loud conversation of diners whose clothes were obviously worth more than my automobile. Should I have worn something other than jeans, running shoes, and a leather jacket? Ms St. John fit in perfectly, dressed all in black, including a black hat, black cape, and black cane with a gilded handle. There was gilt everywhere. On the walls, ceiling and chairs, and the epaulettes of the waiters who were dressed like the flying monkeys from the Wizard of Oz.

I thought about all that as I waited for the taxi down by the road and watched a big red rooster peck at the frozen gravel a foot from where I stood.


In the second scene of Act III of King Lear, Shakespeare had the titular character declare he did not tax the elements with unkindness. We hope our subscribers feel the same way about the scribblers of this newsletter when they are reminded the next Orphan Scrivener will flap into their in-boxes on April 15th, the very day when American tax returns are due.

See you then!
Mary R and Eric

who invite you to visit their home page, hanging out on the virtual washing line that is the web at There you'll discover the usual suspects, including more personal essays, lists of author freebies and mystery-related newsletters, Doom Cat (an interactive game written by Eric), a jigsaw featuring the handsome cover of Five For Silver, and our growing pages of links to free e-texts of classic and Golden Age mysteries, ghost stories, and tales of the supernatural. There's also an Orphan Scrivener archive, so don't say you weren't warned! Intrepid subscribers may also wish to pop over to Eric's blog at

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