THE ORPHAN SCRIVENER -- ISSUE # NINETY-FOUR -- 15 AUGUST 2015

Summer is starting to fade a bit around the edges, as sunlight slants ever more thinly and shadows creep in earlier each day. As Tennyson said, the seasons flower and fade, and there is no doubt that, despite pleasant evenings and cooler mornings, the year is in decline. On the other hand, we trust subscribers will not decline to glance over this latest issue of Orphan Scrivener and that being so, here it is...


ERIC'S BIT or THOSE THREE FIENDISH WORDS

John Greenleaf Whittier famously wrote, "Of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these, 'It might have been.'" I guess the old poet never heard, on a sunny August day, the chilling phrase "back to school."

Today sportswriter Kelly Dwyer, writing about a "back to school" charity game, remarked parenthetically that "even in my mid-30s I still cringe every time I write, see, say or read those three words." I'm three decades older than Kelly and I still feel that way. It was a shock being unexpectedly reminded during the very time of year when the words resounded like the crack of doom -- or a school bell -- over my vacation.

I always felt chagrined (oh, yes, as a boy I was chagrined most of the time, being a reader of Word Power in Readers' Digest) that my vacation should be, in effect, cut short -- the final weeks of freedom practically ruined -- by the bitter reminder of coming imprisonment.

Usually the reminder would rear its ugly head in a radio or newspaper advertisement for school necessities. Walking into the store last week and seeing the special displays of notebooks and lunchboxes made me queasy just as it did more than a half century ago. At least notebooks and pencils had some pleasant connotations. I doodled cartoons during arithmetic.

School clothes were another matter. My mother yanked me out of summer paradise to drag me into the broiling city and a "Boys Department" which felt like a school annex since I never visited there except as a prelude to classes.

In those days, there were tailors in the world, although they were getting on in years. When the tailor bent, stiffly, to chalk my cuffs (yes, back then they even hemmed cuffs...you youngsters can look it up.) I was horribly reminded of black boards covered with indecipherable long division or fractions. When he took my inseam it felt like I was being measured for a shroud. I am pretty sure that in the anteroom to hell you are met not by fiery eyed, pitchfork wielding demons but a wizened little man with a tape measure looped over his shoulders.

And then, the dismay, after a summer spent barefoot in clover, (forgetting the occasional bee underfoot) to feel my toes being pinched into the cruel confinement of leather shoes which not only hurt but demanded I slavishly polish them.

What made me hate school so much? Was it the regimentation, or the fact that in the post Sputnik era kids lacking engineering aptitude were pushed aside? Maybe I dreaded the endless tests, each one presenting a new possibility for failure. Or was it just that I preferred laying on the porch drawing with crayons or wallowing around a creek in pursuit of frogs to sitting in a classroom? Well, who wouldn't?

Fortunately I am beyond the fiendish clutches of the education system now. August brings a ghostly frisson, but in September I watch the yellow buses roll past and am happy not to be on one. I don't like getting old. My back hurts, my hair is falling out and it takes me twice as long as it once did to mow the lawn. But at least I don't have to go back to school.


NECESSARY EVIL or THE BSP TICKER

We've a fair budget of news this time round, so let's get to it...

MURDER IN MEGARA or AN UPDATE ON JOHN'S LATEST ADVENTURE

After ARCs become available comes that difficult time of waiting, akin to contemplating an approaching visit to the dentist. An anxious time for authors to be sure, but once the first review is out, even if it's a slash and burn horror, we proceed serenely thereafter. We are now in the latter stage since the first notices of Murder In Megara aka Elevenfer have appeared.

Publishers Weekly: "Solid...one of the more distinctive series entries."

Kirkus Reviews: "Johnís 11th case combines historical detail with a cerebral mystery full of surprises."

A SHROPSHIRE LASS or THE GUARDIAN STONES

It's too early for reviews to have appeared for our January 2016 title, not to be wondered at given ARCs have just become available, but as promised last time here's a bit more information about this new venture.

In 1941 residents of the remote Shropshire village Noddweir must suddenly contend with missing children, murdered neighbors, and an ominous sense of evil radiating from the prehistoric stone circle on their mountaintop. Who is responsible? Some villagers see the hand of German infiltrators bent on terror. The superstitious, mindful of the stone circle gazing down on Noddweir, are convinced malevolent supernatural powers are at work.

Edwin Carpenter, a retired American professor visiting to study the ancient stones, joins Grace, daughter of the former village constable, to investigate the mysterious crimes that have driven the village to the edge. They lack the skills of the police, but demonstrate hardiness and determination in pursuing their investigation.

ANNOUNCING A NEW BLOG or A REED BY ANOTHER NAME

Since the last Orphan Scrivener darkened your in-box we've begun a joint blog under the name of Eric Reed. Its content includes a regular feature devoted to Golden Age of Mystery reviews, a new one appearing each Sunday. To date these titles include Malcolm Sage, Detective by Herbert Jenkins, Mary Roberts Rinehart's The Confession, and The Bittermeads Mystery by E. R. Punshon. Tomorrow's review will focus on Sapper's collection of Ronald Standish stories. Otherwise, who knows what mischief we'll get up to next? Here's our latest location:

http://ericreedmysteries.blogspot.com/

THE STRUGGLE TO BE BRIEF or FIVE FAVOURITE MYSTERIES

Mary contributed five titles and brief comments thereon to Martin Hill Ortiz's Mystery Writers Choose Their Favorite Mysteries feature on 20th June. Limited to a quintet, it was quite a struggle and indeed those cited might well change today and tomorrow. It must be said however the first mentioned, The Spiral Staircase, also published as Some Must Watch, and written by Ethel Lina White is such a favourite it would remain entrenched in any new list. As Mary observed, its slow build-up of tension is enough to make readers of a nervous disposition swoon. Novels by John Dickson Carr, a couple of Agatha Christies, and a John Buchan round out the list. However, there was, despite the natural progression this list might suggest, no mention of a partridge in a pear tree, easily established by consulting Martin's blog at

http://martinhillortiz.blogspot.com/2015/06/mystery-writers-choose-their-favorite_20.html

AND SPEAKING OF LIMITS or A LATE ARRIVAL

In the last issue of Orphan Scrivener we provided a number of authors' comments on what they consider a pleasant afternoon. The catch was their descriptions had to be in twelve words or less. Now John McEvoy gallops up to contribute his entry, a most fitting one for this month: My Pleasant Afternoon would be with family watching Saratoga Races in August. John's most recent book is High Stakes.

HOW WE WRITE or REVELATIONS IN VERSE

We were honoured when the San Joaquin Sisters in Crime July newsletter reprinted part of our explanation of our method of co-writing. With apologies to Gilbert and Sullivan, the first verse runs in this wise:

We're co-authors of ratiocinative fiction Inventing plots full of character friction Scattering clues for the villain's conviction Co-writers of mysteries!

The full version may be read on the Poisoned Pen Press blog by pointing your clicker at

http://www.poisonedpenpress.com/partners-in-crime/

OH, THOSE HANDSOME DEVILS! or A LOOK OF PECULIAR ENERGY

Speaking of the Poisoned Pen Press blog, on 18th July Mary wound up her recent sequence of contributions on contemporary ideas of attractive looks in both genders as evidenced by older novels, a fascinating topic that due to space limitations could only be touched upon lightly. A Conception of Some Old Nordic God and A Look of Peculiar Energy provides a handful of women writers' thoughts on the subject, and may be viewed at

http://www.poisonedpenpress.com/conception-old-nordic-god-look-peculiar-energy/

The topic for 18th August is, appropriately enough, All The News That's Fit To Be Emailed at

http://www.poisonedpenpress.com/?p=25487

Meantime, subscribers might care to read news and blogs by other Poisoned Pen Press authors via the links on this page

http://www.poisonedpenpress.com/category/news-and-blog/news/


MARY'S BIT or LET US NOW PRAISE FAMOUS MEANIES' ENDS

Some time ago I began an as-yet uncompleted project to read all the Dickens novels I'd not yet perused, and as a result have come to admire his creation of such a wonderful rogue's gallery of villains it's difficult to choose a handful of representative mug shots.

Which won't stop me from having a go, as Wilfred Pickles' old radio programme was wont to invite participants. So, as Wilfred would ask his good lady Mabel at a certain point in the proceedings, what's on the table?

A trio of truly nasty meanies would be my sprightly response, two of 'em from Oliver Twist and the third from The Old Curiosity Shop. Happily for the moral balance of the universe and Victorian sensibilities Dickens saw to it that in due course they came to grief in what I for one consider particularly appropriate ways.

Mr Bumble, overseer of the workhouse where Oliver Twist was born, punishes the latter for his famous request for more gruel, made on behalf of all the half-famished boys. Oliver is not only advertised as available to anyone needing an apprentice, but in the interim is kept locked up, emerging every other day to be flogged in front of the boys in the dining hall as a warning and when washing under the outdoor pump despite the cold weather is repeatedly thrashed with a cane by Mr Bumble. Time passes and the Bumbles become pauper residents in the same workhouse. Dickens did not disclose whether or not they enjoyed their gruel, but choking on it might well have been the fondest hope of enraged readers.

Bill Sikes gets my vote as Dickens' most monstrous creation. He was born to hang, an old saying applied to Oliver by a certain gentleman in a white waistcoat if you please. Bill is a burglar and a vicious brute with a hair-trigger temper, prone to violent outbursts. Nancy, the prostitute who loves him, meets a terrible end, for Sikes beats her to death. In subsequently seeking to escape the mob he accidentally hangs himself in an attempt to get away via the roof, whereupon Bull's-eye, his vicious and ill-treated but loyal dog, attempts to leap to safety but fails, dashing out his brains. I suspect most readers feel sorrier for the dog than its owner, for it only behaves as it has been trained to behave.

Malignant dwarf Daniel Quilp is, among other things, a slum landlord and money lender. Happiest when tormenting others, he is a domestic tyrant, physically and mentally abusive towards his timid and downtrodden wife Betsy, who is terrified of him. Much is subtly revealed by his sneering description of her as well-trained. Having preyed on those who were drowning in debt, it seems only right he comes to a watery end in the Thames one foggy night. His death ruled a suicide, his body is buried with a stake through it at a crossroads, although some whisper his mistreated dogsbody Tom Scott received the body -- or exhumed it -- and it's buried elsewhere. How Quilp would have gnashed his teeth had he known his widow would remarry happily and she and her new spouse lead a merry life on Quilp's money!


AND FINALLY

It's said October's child, like Wednesday's, is born to woe. However, it'll be only a single dose of misery when the next Orphan Scrivener trundles into subscribers' in-boxes, given its arrival will take place on October 15th, a Thursday.

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 http://home.earthlink.net/~maywrite/ There you'll discover the usual suspects, including more personal essays, our 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! Intrepid subscribers may also wish to know our noms des Twitter are @marymaywrite and @groggytales Drop in some time!


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