Subscribers will doubtless notice our scribbles are briefer than usual this time round, matching the contraction in daylight hours now in full swing. The change in essay length is in order to keep this latest issue of Orphan Scrivener to a manageable size, given it's one of the most news-laden in recent years. In keeping with this aim, we'll cut this introduction short right now....


Graham Greene's The Ministry of Fear has one of my favourite opening chapters. During World War Two its protagonist visits a somewhat sinister fete in a London square and, with the advice of the fete's fortune teller, wins a cake by "guessing" its weight. Certainly a desirable prize given the rationing in force at the time, and it kicks off a tale featuring the most stunning deus ex machina it has been my pleasure to read.

There's something so charming about British fetes. I always liked to visit them whether in town or country. They're often connected with church fundraisers. The one I enjoyed the most was held in a Cambridgeshire village, and it sported that wonderful, if uncommon, feature where one could pay a fee and throw a wet sponge at the vicar. I refrained from respect for the cloth, but it was all done in good fun and how could you not like a minister who would go along with it?

Other traditional features of such fetes? Well, not only estimating the weight of a cake but also guessing how many beans there are in a bottle. I've noticed home-grown fruit, vegetables, and flowers always find many buyers and book stalls are well patronised. I once bought a hardback copy of Ivanhoe for a few pennies, a lovely old edition with tissue paper protecting its frontispiece and no apparent date of publication. Was it a first edition? Alas, I cannot say since I no longer have it.

It's true an egg and spoon race would not work in wartime given at one point the egg ration was down to one a week, but I have observed both it and the sack race seem to be enjoyed by many smaller fry, with pony rides well patronised by older children. Then there's the fancy dress contests. In one instance the only entry in a certain category was a toddler dressed as a mouse, so she was a shoe-in, or should that be paw-in, to win. Although I think the little one enjoyed the applause as she was led around by her mother just as much if not more as the prize.

Let us not forget the white elephant, baked goods, and handicraft stalls. At a fete in the grounds of a Banbury hospital I bought a small stuffed toy horse whose leather horseshoes needed more attention by the sewer standing in for a blacksmith as they badly needed trimming, but if you want to talk about sinister, the stall holder who sold the horse to me greeted me by name -- yet to this day I have no idea who she was or where we could have met.

Sadly, I've never been fortunate enough to visit a fete offering readings by a fortune teller although I gather they are popular even when cakes are not involved. Our closest approach to featuring such a character was in Five For Silver, wherein a shipper named Nereus has a house and garden filled with various animal and other oracles, the better to conduct his hazardous business. But not as hazardous as correctly guessing the weight of a cake at a war time fete.


And now here's the latest budget of news...


It wasn't as lengthy as the journey from Greenland's icy coast to India's coral strand to which Reginald Heber's hymn refers, but John sailed for Greece a book ago and doubtless his time aboard ship felt just as long, given his fear of deep water.

His first post-voyage adventure was formally launched just over a week ago and reviews continue to hove into view, most recently from the Library Journal: "Meticulous research makes this historical series set in the Byzantine empire a joy to read. Admirers of Steven Saylor and Lindsey Davis will enjoy exploring this ancient world."

Care to sample a short extract? Point your clickers to the Historical Fiction Excerpts blog


Publication of Murder In Megara means John's biographers emerge from the shadows to pop up hither and yon. Here's a report of sightings so far:

On 11th September thoughts on the vexed question of how to present the violence inherent in mysteries were offered to readers of Lance Wright's Omnimystery News site

There was visit on 30th September to Maryann Miller's blog with Perchance We Meet, concerning unexpected meetings. And speaking of unexpected, we had nothing to do with Maryann's choice of illustration, but the teapot in the photo is identical to ours!

Then on October 5th Lois Winston kindly hosted some thoughts on her blog, this time concerning the role of mosaics in the Lord Chamberlain series

Next day we dropped in again on Lance Wright to chat about such diverse topics as what we look for when selecting a book to read for pleasure and how we would complete the sentence "I am a mystery author and thus I am also..."

Looking ahead, we'll be calling in at the Type M For Murder blog to present Geese, Graves, and other Writerly Concerns, which describes our method of checking for anachronisms. Go to on 17th October, scroll to "Saturday's post", et voila!


We continue to offer reviews of Golden Age of Mystery novels on our blog on Sundays. Titles scrutinised so far include Mary Roberts Rinehart's The Man In Lower Ten, The Bittermeads Mystery by E. R. Punshon, and Herbert Jenkins' collection of short stories titled Malcolm Sage, Detective. There's even book jacket illustrations! This coming Sunday another collection, Average Jones by Samuel Hopkins Adams, gets its turn under the microscope. Check it out at:


Given our 1941 mystery The Guardian Stones is a January 2016 title, we were surprised to see Kirkus Reviews has commented on it already. But so they did: "A fascinating look at a small town mired in the past and confronting the future—with a bombshell ending."


A couple more contributions to the Poisoned Pen Press multi-author blog to report.

On 18th August George Bernard Shaw's observation no question is so difficult to answer as that to which the answer is obvious introduced All The News That's Fit To Be Emailed

Edwin Whipple it was who described books as lighthouses in time’s great sea, leading into Coquetting With Starvation, which appeared on 18th September

Since it's not yet written, the topic of the blog appearing on 18th October is as yet unknown, but subscribers could always pop over there on that date to find out. Meantime, they might care to read news and blogs about and by our fellow Poisoned Pen Press authors via this links page


On my way through the kitchen I often notice our refrigerator humming to itself, always the same tune, monotonous to my ear, maybe something from Eno's Here Come the Warm Jets album or a snatch of Kraftwerk. The fridge (if I may be so familiar, but after all we've known each other for fifteen years now) may be old enough to recall that music. It's over thirty at least. We know because more than five years ago, Mary called Whirlpool hoping to find a replacement for the cracked door to the freezer compartment and was told by a perplexed and skeptical representative that our model hadn't been manufactured for at least twenty-five years.

In the past refrigerators enjoyed lifetimes as improbable as those of the Biblical patriarchs. Today they are designed to break down in six to eight years according to one repairman, annoyed that half the refrigerators he's called out to fix are in fact beyond repair and need replacing. Thirty or forty years is certainly a ripe old age for a refrigerator of any vintage. Maybe its longevity is partly due to its smallish size. Short and slim enough to fit into the alcove under the stairs, the compressor hasn't been taxed as much as that of a heftier model.

Then too, this house used to be a summer home. During much of the year, with the plumbing drained and the electricity shut off, the fridge rested, watching the ever changing oblongs of shadow moving through the chilly, silent room, a succession of Edward Hopper paintings. I suppose a refrigerator doesn't mind the cold, but rather luxuriates in icy temperatures it doesn't need to produce itself.

As is usually the case, our fridge was here when we arrived. How unsettling it must be for refrigerators to change owners. One day filled with ice pops for young children, the next stuffed with Ensure. What unfamiliar items have those shelves held? Given the age, they might once have been populated by extinct beverages, such as Ma's Cream Soda and white-labeled bottles of Generic Beer.

And how exactly was the freezer compartment door so badly cracked? Oh, the stories our old fridge could tell. But all it does is hum to itself.


George Bernard Shaw would probably advance the theory our fridge hums because it doesn't know the words. Meantime, subscribers' blood may well be chilled when we remind them the next issue of Orphan Scrivener will skate into their in-boxes on December 15th.

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 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! Our joint blog is at Intrepid subscribers may also wish to know our noms des Twitter are @marymaywrite and @groggytales Drop in some time!

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