Since the Orphan Scrivener's shadow last darkened your inbox, summer has come and the first fireflies have glowed in the shadows on the lawn. Yet already the lengthening days are moving towards the summer solstice and soon the days will begin to grow shorter, if an oxymoron may be permitted grazing room in this latest newsletter.

It was Cardinal Richelieu who reportedly observed that, given six lines written by an honest man, he could find something among them to hang the writer. We leave subscribers to ponder his words while urging them to continue reading beyond this line....


And now for a peek behind the writing curtain.

We have written a Victorian novel of mystery-suspense with a touch of the occult, for which the plot required inventing a patent cure for evil to serve as a pet theory for a medical man.

What we settled on is fairly tame -- though in its way logical -- compared to some of the patent medicinal panaceas for that era, for hawkers of such didn't hide their bushels under a fancy-labeled box of nostrums. There's no doubt the colourful field of patent medicine produced some exotic crops. You only have to read their beautifully florid advertisements to wonder at mankind's credulity.

Not to mention the number of compounds from which these miraculous cures were, er, compounded, many of which were claimed to be to a doctor's recipe. Well, there's more than one way of doctoring, and here I'm thinking of the ingredients.

For example, take Turlington's Balsam of Life. Please. Patented in the 1700s it boasted over 20 ingredients. Among other ailments, its proprietor claimed it would not only raise the spirits and cure inward weakness but also influence disordered body parts for the better.

Strikes me Frankenstein would surely have succeeded in his aim if only he'd laid in a supply of the mixture before he began his shocking experiments.

Opium had a long partnership with this type of preparation. A 1670 work by Christopher Merrett mentions Matthew's Pills, in which the drug was mixed with white hellebore roots and oil of turpentine. He goes to say of this mixture "by giving rest and ease it may easily decoy people into the use of them, though by long taking of them, diseases become far more incurable then they are in their own Nature."

But worse than that was known to happen, for children were not only treated for colic, teething pains, and similar conditions but, alas, were also often kept asleep with the aid of a dose of Godfrey's Cordial, which also contained opium. Sometimes infants thus quietened slept on forever.

One of my favourite nostrums is Dr Salmon's Elixer Universall, the recipe for which he published in 1693, because it mentions filings from a unicorn horn. Other ingredients included "Pouder of a Lyon's heart", chameleon ashes, and a man's dried brain, not to mention the more down to earth earthworms and Egyptian onions. We might ponder whence came some of the more exotic ingredients -- assuming the statements to be true, which is doubtful -- but in any event the exotic mixture was to be taken from what he termed the change of the moon to the full. According to Dr Salmon, his Universall Elixer cured digestive and heart disorders, stopped bleeding, and strengthened the sytem, as well as other good works.

Sounds a bit fishy to me.

Did a person languish under an attack of rheumatism, fever, or ague? Haul out Bateman's Pectoral Drops, a remarkable mixture that could even cure a cold with a single dose, a task beyond medical science today. Another preparation featuring opium, the drops also contained alcohol and oil of anise. Afflicted with diseases of the chest, low spirits, dyspepsia, or trouble with your liver? Try a course of Mountain Herb Pills, which also promised to deal with any female complaints your relatives on the distaff side may have.

Speaking of the ladies, human nature being what it is, preparations such as those I've described were also hawked for beautifying women. Imagine the horror of a titled lady cursed with pimples or other skin eruptions at the start of the London season. Dr Mackenzie's Improved Harmless Arsenic Complexion Wafters -- advertised as producing a lovely complexion -- to the rescue! Once accomplished, it would be wise to keep the skin beautiful with the aid of his Arsenical Toilet Soap, which at shilling a cake or sixpence unscented was pretty expensive, no pun intended.

Should other illnesses strike, still milady need not worry too much. She'd be back in the social whirl quickly after a while spent wearing Dr Scott's Electropathic Corset. Magnetic in nature, its inventor touted it as a remedy for, among various conditions, hysteria, debility, palpitations, and nervousness -- just the sort of ailments to get the servants talking, you notice. Should milady fall victim to rheumatism or even paralysis, Dr Scott's electric hair brush could affect a cure, provided nobody else had used it. Or she might try Dr Fraunce's Female Strengthening Elixir, which promised to restore weak constitutions, for surely a lady could not be possessed of a decayed constitution, correction of which was the hair brush's other claim to fame?

It's a fascinating topic despite causing many peoples' eyes to roll - though if they thus do them a mischief, versions of 19th century eye massagers are on the market today -- but we should not be too hasty to dismiss these old remedies. Why, only the other day I heard leeches have reappeared in the medical world. I refer to health insurance companies.


The ticker this time round begins with startling news...


We're thrilled to announce the refurbished edition of One For Sorrow as by M. E. Mayer will spring forth in November from the new British publisher Head of Zeus. No jokes about the circumstances of Athena's birth if you please. Fellow PPP hist-mystery authors Bruce McBain, Jane Finnis, and Priscilla Royal will also appear from HoZ and in addition to those mentioned above our other distinguished stablemates include Thomas Cook, Dashiell Hammett, and Joyce Carol Oates. Take a glance at HoZ's lavish catalogue at


Continuing her regular turn on the PPP multi-author blog stage, when the curtain went up on Mary's 18th April contribution she revealed fourteen things she learnt by reading Golden Age mysteries. For a start, would you trust a lady who dared to show her ankles?

On 15th May Mary trod the boards again, this time to look backward -- without falling into the orchestra pit -- with a bit of nostalgic musing about the sounds of childhood. Take that, Marcel Proust and your madeleines!

We've occasionally been asked about co-writing so for her appearance on the 18th of this month Mary will relate how we work as partners in crime. After the style of Gilbert and Sullivan, no less. The PPP blog lives over at so if subscribers don't fancy that particular topic, they can consult its smorgasboard of links to contributions from other PPP authors and be fairly sure of finding something of interest.


Horace was of the opinion literary works should be kept away from the public eye for at least nine years. Rash scribblers that we are, we ignored the famous Roman's advice and thus Nine For The Devil appeared the year following its completion. Since the ticker began with mention of our literary labours we shall close with a couple of reviews of the latest. Robin Burcell, award-winning author of The Bone Chamber, described Ninefer as "More complex and colorful than any Byzantine mosaic", set in "the cruel intrigue-ridden court of the Emperor Justinian, where treachery and murder linger behind every shadowed column of the imperial palace in Constantinople", while Jerrilyn Farmer, bestselling author of the Madeline Bean mysteries, said its "twisty plotting, fabulous dialogue, and aristocratic backstabbing drew me into this clever plot (Who killed an Empress who showed no signs of being murdered?) and I could not stop reading until I watched master problem-solver John dance his way out of the deadly wrath of his grieving emperor". Subscribers wishing to look over other early reviews of Ninefer should point their clickers towards for the collection so far.


Several years ago, Dave Davies of Kinks fame had up for auction on eBay one of his old guitars, a vintage 1977 Les Paul Artisan used on various tours and songs. I imagine that for a connoisseur it would be exciting to get hold of an instrument from which a genuine rock n' roll legend had wrung some notes.

A lot of rock fans can tell you that John Lennon favored a Rickenbacker 325 while Jimi Hendrix preferred a Fender Stratocaster, and even point to what guitars were used on which tracks. I can just about distinguish an acoustic from electric so why, exactly, Dave might have played a Les Paul Artisan three pickup custom walnut on the Kinks' eighties hit Come Dancing instead of, say, a banjo is beyond me.

Since writing, unlike music, is something I know a little about, I was intrigued when I ran across The Classic Typewriter Page on the web, listing typewriters used by famous authors.

I suppose different makes of guitars have characteristic sounds and I can imagine how the guitar used might influence the music produced. At the very least, acoustic guitars sound different than electric ones. Different typewriters -- even electrics and portables -- all produce (or should I say produced?) exactly the same words.

Then again, pounding the typewriter keys and slapping the return lever was a physical process, like working guitar strings. Every typewriter has a different feel. Making the same words on a portable, or a manual, or an electric is a different sensation. The words sound different coming out too. The clatter of the keys, the noise made by the carriage, differ from machine to machine.

Might the make of typewriter used influence the words? Looking down the list I noticed a few authors had the same machines. For example, both Philip K. Dick and Harlan Ellison used an Olympia SG 3. A good machine for sf perhaps? On the other hand, E.B. White and Jack Kerouac wrote on Underwood portables. Now there's a mismatched pair for you!

Check out the machines employed by some mystery virtuosos:

Agatha Christie: Remington Portables No. 2 and No. 5
Raymond Chandler: Underwood Noiseless
Ian Fleming: Royal portables (one gold-plated)
Erle Stanley Gardner: Underwood 5
Dashiell Hammett: Royal De Luxe
Patricia Highsmith: Olympia SM3
Georges Simenon: Royal 10
Mickey Spillane: L.C. Smith Standard Super Speed

Not much in common. Except that all the typewriters represented proved capable of producing publishable work. The Smith-Corona manual portable on which I labored futilely for years was a machine shunned by all the successful authors named on the Classic Typewriter Page. Maybe that was my problem. You need the right tool for the job.

Would it have helped if I'd used the same writing instrument as a typewriter hero?

Raymond Chandler used an Underwood and I used to bring $4 Underwoods home from the thrift store all the time. Inevitably they proved more suitable for reducing a sheet of paper to shreds than writing, that is when the carriage didn't immediately jam, or fall off. Did any of those Underwoods have The Big Sleep in them, if they had still worked?

The computer keyboards I've been using since around 1990 haven't, but at least I've been able to tap out some publishable material. Although one might ask, is it my keyboard or is it Mary, my co-author?

The typewriter list notes that Bob Dylan used a Royal Safari Deluxe and Roy Orbison an Underwood TM5. Wonder if I'd be able to make music if I found one of those old typewriters? I guess if I wanted to sing I'd stick to the Underwood TM5.


Orphan Scrivener continues its glorious career of skating perilously close to behind hauled up before tbe beak on charges of presenting a probable cause of civil riot, but what is life without a bit of excitement now and then? For, as Dr Johnson observed, when a calamity occurs, the afflicted should always recall how much worse it could have been.

Subscribers may well find out how worse it could be when the next issue causes a commotion in their in-boxes on August 15th.

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, the Doom Cat interactive game written by Eric, 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! Intrepid subscribers may also wish to pop over to Eric's blog at

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