Poetess Eliza Cook bid us sing a welcome to drifting snow, but on the whole many of us on the east coast would much rather drink something piping hot and to heck with William Cobbett's demand we free ourselves from our slavery to coffee and similar slopkettles. What a marvelous word is slopkettles, quite on the same level with gandydancer and lollygag in the opinion of one of the scribblers residing in Casa Maywrite.

And speaking of interesting words, while tradition has it those born in February, provided they wear pearls, will have peace of mind and level passions we cannot promise the same to subscribers who insist on continuing to read this latest issue of Orphan Scrivener...


Last month an American hamburger chain kicked off a five-week promotion in the UK offering books with its boxed meals for children. A brilliant idea to be sure, although it seems currently there are no plans to do the same over here.

Reading the announcement today brings to mind a recent conversation at Casa Maywrite about breakfast cereal giveaways. At one point Eric recalled his delight when, having saved up enough box tops to send for a 3D Mighty Mouse comic and the special glasses needed to read it, they finally arrived in the post.

Other cereal freebies he remembers with affection include small dinosaurs, figures of The Lady and The Tramp, and miniature plastic submarines. When loaded with baking powder and launched, the latter would, by some mysterious process of reaction between water and its cargo, dive up and down under its own, er, steam. There were also, I believe, frogmen figures which worked on the same principle, but neither of us have ever seen them.

We never had anything half as interesting as baking powder powered subs in science lessons at grammar school, though I have to say the most striking demonstration we had was when our teacher showed us the effects of gravity by removing air from a tin container akin to a small, flat jerry can, which suddenly went clang-thwang and collapsed in on itself.

But you cannot repeat that startling trick without a jerry can and they never showed up in cereal boxes.

The ever helpful Mr Google informs me that in the early 1900s an oatmeal company offered coupons swappable for deeds to tiny lots of land in Milford, CT. Naturally these lots were individually useless for building but what fun for children to own! Then in the mid 1950s the same company ran a similar promotion, this time deeds to Klondike land in connection with the TV show Sergeant Preston of the Yukon.

It has no connection with cereal or land, but my favourite freeby -- apart from the trinkets, daft hats, and groanworthy jokes in Christmas crackers -- was the plastic daffodil given away with a British detergent. I only managed to get hold of one such artificial bloom and I regret to say there exists in the old country a short bit of film of me dancing around a back garden, plastic daffodil in hand.

In mitigation I can only plead my extreme youth.

Years before my floral dance there was the vexed matter of the masks. At this particular time, cereal boxes appeared with life-sized masks printed on their backs and such was my interest in collecting a set that when the first box came home I took it apart and gleefully cut out the mask.

The problem was, as so many malefactors have discovered before and since, how then to dispose of the evidence, which in this case was a very large pile of cereal?

Not to mention there were only two possible suspects in the case: myself and my sister.

So I piled the cereal into a couple of bowls, placed them on a shelf near the top of the cupboard next to the kitchen fireplace, and went and hid in my attic bedroom, for too late I had realised my mother would have plenty to say about my providing free lunch to passing mice.

Perhaps it's not surprising to learn my planned collection consisted of only one item.

At least I didn't try to mask my guilt by blaming my sister.


After a quiet period the ticker has suddenly leapt into action, tapping out a rush of revelations, and here they are...


A few years back a British friend visited Ravenna, home of the beautiful mosaics featured on our stunning Poisoned Pen Press covers. While there he made a point of reading a paragraph or two from one of John's adventures. However, next time he's in Italy he'll be able to peruse one of the first three novels in the native language, given we've just learnt the trio will be published in Italian in both print and ebook form. Further details as they arrive!

Meantime, John's adventures are now appearing from British publisher Head of Zeus, with One For Sorrow hardback and ebook editions issued in December and the paperback scheduled to be published on 1st April (no comments from the back row, if you please). Ebooks of the other eight novels also appeared on 1st December, and paperback and hard cover editions of the octet will leap forth in due course.


We've just entered the Year of the Snake, with the Chinese New Year celebrated on February 10th, complete with dragon dances and firecrackers. To mark the occasion, the Mystery Readers Journal website listed mysteries set during the Chinese New Year or in China, and we were happy to see included The Lady Fish Mystery, an Inspector Dorj story set in Ulaan Baatar and published in EQMM's September/October 1996 issue. Our thanks to Janet Rudolph, whose list can be seen by pointing your clicker to: fiction.html


Mary contributed a few thoughts to Not All Grandmothers Have White Hair: Making Minor Characters Fresh, Chris Eboch's article in the recently published The Writers Guide To 2013 The Guide features 40 feature articles on the craft, business, and markets for writers. Chris, who's published many books for children {including The Eyes of Pharaoh, a mystery set in ancient Egypt) and writes romantic southwestern thrillers as Kris Bock,, also quotes authors Joanna Campbell, Sandra Levy Ceren, Jaden Terrell, and Kathleen Shoop in her article.


Murder on an express and several suspects! Thus begins not Agatha Christie's classic novel but rather The Rome Express by Arthur Griffiths, recently reviewed on the blog of our British alter ego M. E. Mayer Reviews, mainly of Golden Age works, scattered among the essays over there include thoughts on such works as John Buchan's ripping yarn Greenmantle, Anna Katharine Green's suspenseful The Circular Study, John Kendrick Bangs' fun-poking R. Homes & Co., and -- speaking of snakes and gems as we have been -- Fergus Hume's tale of The Opal Serpent.

Meantime, Mary spoke of a time When Byzantines Flew on the Poisoned Pen Press multi-author blog on January 18th. Her contribution reveals how we reasoned John could briefly take to the skies in Four For A Boy At the time of writing she has no notion of the topic of her next blog on February 18th, so to find out interested parties may care to visit the PPP blog page on that date. In the meantime, why not slip over there anyhow and give some of our PPP stablemates' recent entries a whirl?


The olfactory sense is not well served by language. Smells are not easily described beyond linking them to their customary sources. The smell of a rose is easily distinguishable from that of a wet dog, but how does one delineate the particular characteristics of each without reference to the rose or the dog?

And yet odors are probably more important in our lives than we realize, influencing us at non-verbal, subconscious levels. They seem to form strong associations in our minds. A few days ago unseasonable temperatures caused a brief thaw and as soon as I went outside to the car I thought, "It smells like spring."

Does anything recall autumn and summer like the smells of burning leaves or newly mowed grass? The scent of pine boughs indoors brings back memories of childhood Christmases when our trees scraped the ceiling, pine branches edged the mantle, and pine-cone studded wreaths decorated every door.

So I wasn't surprised recently when Mary used a new all-purpose cleaner on the kitchen sink to find myself borne into the past by the oddly familiar smell, a memory from a young man's life, the scent of...what?

Not nostalgia for some long-lost spring cleaning certainly. Every time the cleanser came out the odor teased my memory. I knew it. Remembered it well. However, I couldn't quite put my finger -- or perhaps I should say my olfactory lobes -- on it.

It was maddening.

"The bottle says it's scented with lavender," Mary told me.

Lavender? Yes. Of course! The mystery fragrance did suggest an exotic perfume, didn't it? Now I realized there was something bittersweet about the hidden memory. Had my mind suppressed an event? Had someone in my past worn lavender? I recalled feelings of both longing and ultimate disappointment. Is it possible to hide an important relationship from oneself? Perhaps, if the shock of its ending is too much to bear?

Then, as recollection often does, it all came back in an instant, a light going on in a dark room, illuminating the blood, the severed head, the corpses. The trio of bestial, murderous hamsters I'd briefly owned. Three went into the aquarium but only one came out alive. What I remembered was the smell of the hamster bedding. The smell of the rodent section of every pet store and department in which I had stood, nose pressed to glass, longing for hamsters of my own. I looked it up on the Internet. Indeed, at least one leading brand of rodent bedding is lavender scented.

We're going to have to change our all-purpose cleaner.


Speaking of changes, US timepieces spring forward an hour on 10th March, bringing subscribers that much closer to the next issue of Orphan Scrivener, slated to pop into subscribers' in-boxes on 15th April.

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 or visit M. E. Mayer's blog at

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