It gave the ink-stained wretches at Casa Maywrite pause to recollect the first Orphan Scrivener appeared in February 2000. Well, the ubiquitous they do say thirteen is lucky for some, if not our subscribers, for here we are still slogging along.

Looking at that initial newsletter took us back to when we were writing John's second adventure. Eric spoke of our delight when we spied Allen Davis' rendition of our Mongolian detective Dorj in the illustration for The Ladyfish Mystery in the just-published March issue of EQMM, for Allen's Dorj looked just as described had we described him in greater detail than we did. Mary's Please Do Not Send Elephants related the ghastly tale of a near-miss when a light fixture fell off the ceiling and the manner in which it was all downhill from there for the unfortunate cat.

Newer subscribers will find both essays in the newsletter archive on our website, but poor old Dorj has still to make his novel debut -- though we confess to having had a plot idea for him simmering away for years -- and meantime we begin this latest issue of Orphan Scrivener with a renewed plea not to send elephants if you please.


After one of our typical home heated-up dinners I noticed that the ingredients included gorgonzola. Neither Mary nor I like to cook. To us, ingredients aren't things you measure, chop, or mix, but reading matter on the back of packages.

"Gorgonzola. That's cheese, isn't it?" I said, immediately activating the useful auxiliary brain called Google. Quicker than I can remember my Social Security number, I learned that gorgonzola is indeed a cheese, with bluish green veining.

"Whoa," I muttered, not quite turning to stone. "Blue cheese. And look at this, the varicose veins are caused by -- you're not going to believe this -- mold spores growing into hyphae."

Mary frowned. "It doesn't really say varicose does it?"

"Gaaa," I replied sensibly. "I ate mold spore hyphae!"

In case I'm not being clear here, I don't care for blue cheese.

"Tasted all right to me. At least it's not the kind of cheese where you have to scrape the cheese mites off before you eat it."

"Cheese mites! Don't say that when I've got coffee in my mouth," I choked, frantically wiping off my keyboard. "You're kidding?"

"Look it up."

Unfortunately I did. According to Wikipedia, mites clinging to the rind of Milbenkäse are consumed along with the cheese, which has a 'distinctive zesty aftertaste'."

"Well, I can believe it has a distinctive taste!"

Mites are also help age Mimolette, the grayish crust being the result of cheese mites intentionally introduced to add flavor by their action on the surface of the cheese.

"I guess we can be sure that frozen pizza is never topped with Milbenkäse or Mimolette," I observed hopefully.

"If it were, the mites would have frozen to death."

"Maybe, but a mouthful of crunchy hard-frozen mite doesn't appeal to me."

I really should have stopped researching, but you know how it is with Google and the Internet and Wikipedia. You start out looking for information on the most innocent subject and a half hour later you are deep in the realms of things man was not meant to know.

Such as casu marzu, otherwise known as "rotten cheese".

Found mainly in Sardinia casu marzu contains live insect larvae. To be exact -- although "insect larvae" seems all you really need to know -- the larvae of the cheese fly. These larvae resemble translucent white worms about one third of an inch long. (So they say, and I'm willing to take their word for it and leave it at that.) A typical cheese contains thousands of these larvae -- known to the non-cheese lovers amongst us as maggots.

Call me a stick-in-the-mud, but I've never been into eating maggots. In fact, I was always been pretty much against eating anything while it was still alive. When my family went out to eat, the "very rare" (i.e. bleeding) steaks my mom ordered looked to me as if they were going to moo when you stuck them with a fork so I always demanded my steak be well done and then burned to a crisp, twice, just to be on the safe side.

Once, I admit, I ate a raw oyster at a street fair in Brooklyn. What can I say? I was young and stupid, the sun was hot, I'd had too much sangria. Sometimes when I remember it I can still feel the slimy mollusc sliding down...

Okay, so when it comes to food I've always had delicate sensibilities. I had to avert my gaze every time I passed the Rochester restaurant with the big sign announcing Tripe Pizza. Mary told me she liked tripe but I couldn't force myself to go there, not even when we were first married. I did however try to please her once by preparing another of her favorites, liver and onions. (Yes, we did try to cook once in a while until we gave up.)

As a child liver had revolted me and I had revolted when it was served for dinner. But, I told myself, now I am an adult. Surely I am mature enough to consume a few token bits of a cow's internal organ?

So I forked up a chunk and chewed, and chewed, and chewed. It was like trying to chew a sponge. I couldn't grind it up, nor could I swallow it down. Every time I tried to gulp my throat balked with an instant gag reflex.

Yes, as an omnivore I am a dreadful failure.

But not even tripe or liver can match the aforementioned rotten cheese.

Apparently connoisseurs of the finer things in life enjoy spreading the stuff on bread. But then they have to hold their hands over the bread to eat it because those living maggots can jump as much as six inches! Holy leaping larvae, Batman! You wouldn't want a maggot up your snout when you were trying to get your tasty treat down your gullet, would you?

Now I think I'll go and have some tasty Pepto-Bismol.


After a fairly quiet period, the ticker is merrily clacking away. Read on!


Our work in progress remains anonymous since as yet it sports no title. We are, however, closing in on completing the first draft and hope, all going well, to see it published next year. It's something of a departure for the series but we best not say too much at this point given the plot keeps wandering off in a different direction than was expected. So perhaps we may instead be permitted to mention that collected information on earlier entries in our Byzantine series may be viewed on two handy locations: at the Poisoned Pen Press website and over at Head of Zeus


Our protagonist John made his debut in an extremely short short story in The Mammoth Book of Historical Whodunnits, edited by Mike Ashley. Thus when we read SPAWNews, an online monthly newsletter issued by the Small Publishers, Artists and Writers Network, was seeking comments on the pros and cons of contributing to anthologies, it was a natural topic to tackle. The April issue of SPAWNews appears at and includes not only Mary's contribution but also thoughts from Miles Archer, Teel James Glenn, and Gail Farrelly.


Subscribers may be interested to hear about a themed mini-anthology presenting novels by three Poisoned Pen Press authors has now appeared from Head of Zeus. Three Great Historical Mysteries offers Bruce McBain's Roman Games, Priscilla Royal's Wine of Violence, and our shadow identity M. E. Mayer's One For Sorrow, revised just last year. Details here


While Eric runs his own blog Mary only shows up on the Poisoned Pen Press multi-author blog on the 18th of each month. Most recently her March mutterings dealt with the fact Justinian Says You Can't Do That, while in a couple of days she will be presenting Classic Novels In Twelve Words. In addition, there's our joint M. E. Mayer blog lurking about at In its current incarnation it's a confection largely devoted to reviews of mystery novels published in the Golden Age of Detection or earlier, with an occasional bit of spice in the form of blogs. But who knows what it may feature any day now!


Having grown up in large cities, I've shared space with mice -- one fell down the bedroom chimney but got away though sooty -- and a colony of back yard ants that could not be eradicated in a location once visited by a rat, though I did not hear about the latter at the time. But until I came to live in a rural area I had not made the acquaintance of wells, septic tanks, and certain of the wilder types of wild life.

As my young niece once observed on seeing squirrels "There's an awful lot of nature here." And indeed there is. We've been boggled with sightings of groundhogs, seen a family of deer led by a majestic buck passing by at twilight as well as stragglers cropping the back lawn, and noticed a large flock of wild turkeys tearing up the same stretch of grass, moss, and large stones. The most striking creature in the great category was a fully grown back bear which made its stately progress across the front lawn and round past the front door. It was an awe-inspiring sight.

But all these creatures had the common courtesy to remain outdoors.

Oh, the odd wasp, moth, or fly pops in now and then at Casa Maywrite as they do for everyone and happily the one death's head moth who came a-calling only peeked at us through the kitchen window. But on the other hand, we've had occasional visitations -- fortunately few -- from several smaller but more ghastly creatures, for example bright green flying insects emitting a distinct grassy smell. The jury is out on whether these are western conifer seed bugs or not. Their colour seems wrong, but then again creatures evolve in strange ways and who knows what goes on in Mother Nature's laboratories in the surrounding woodland?

We did manage to identify the handful of recent drop-ins as wood cockroaches. Looking them up, we learned they dine on decayed organic material and lay eggs in the bark of dead trees. Our devout wish is they would stay outdoors. There's plenty of trees out there, but these outriders seemed to favour our bathroom, possibly because its window is only a stone's throw from the edge of the woods and they are drawn to lights.

We've also weathered a couple of invasions of ants both great and small, not to mention visits from one or two earwigs and a lone centipede, while the house shelters at least one wolf spider. It lives in the office and it may be it takes performance-enhancing drugs or has brought in a couple of buddy bugs working on overtime rates because I have never lived in a house where so many webs appear so often. Other than the odd fly forming a spider meal on wings we have no idea what the heck the wolfies could be living on, unless it's each other. And there have been one or two larger egg-shaped spiders of an unknown variety. No mercy for them: they're sucked up by the hoover on sight.

But the most ghastly creature who's popped in was the very large spider of the sort that lives in or near the garden shed. While we would like to know what they are since they may be the adult form of the hoover spiders, we did not care to get close enough to examine it. But would subscribers really want to do that when I state (Little Miss Muffet and other arachnophobes should perhaps skip the rest of this paragraph or else prepare to scream) that without exaggeration the nasty thing, if including the span of its legs, was as wide as the palm of the hand that grabbed a running shoe and smashed it toot sweet? Thank heavens it was spotted before it could hide and then creep upstairs to visit us at night....

On the other hand, all is not lost. We can guarantee there are no cheese mites in the fridge, and for the nervous reader we are happy to confirm that those ticking sounds at night are caused by the heating pipes cooling down, rather than death watch beetles, traditional foretellers of death and disasters.


Speaking of disasters reminds us of their sibling calamities, which Ambrose Bierce reckoned were of two kinds: misfortune for us and good fortune for others. Further, he defined misfortune as the kind of fortune that never misses, thus agreeing with Samuel Johnson, who, possibly after examining his cheese too closely, declared misfortune should be expected. So in the spirit of fair play we'll close by reminding subscribers the next Orphan Scrivener will crawl into their inboxes on 15th June.

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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