In a striking case of a curious concatenation of coincidences, three weeks hence two of our novels will have appeared in four months. Murder In Megara, our protagonist John's eleventh adventure taking place in Greece, came out in October and The Guardian Stones, set in WWII rural Shropshire, will be published in January. The settings, eras, and protagonists in the two books are about as different as can be imagined, but as Disraeli observed, variety is the mother of enjoyment. Let's hope readers agree.

Meantime, here follows the variety of content forming this latest issue of Orphan Scrivener...


You might be puzzled to see that our new novel, The Guardian Stones, is by some guy named Eric Reed. He, of course, is us but you may well be asking yourself why did we adopt a pen name?

It certainly isn't because we're cranking books out so fast we don't want to glut the market with Reed and Mayer titles. The publishing industry is different than it was in the old days (i.e. a couple decades ago). Modern publishers don't offer much opportunity for writers to hack out enormous numbers of books under pseudonyms, at least not in the mystery field. They are not concerned with filling up generic lines guaranteed to sell overall a certain, modest number of copies no matter what. Rather they are looking for authors who can write individual books or series that will sell a lot and right now! There are a few work-for-hire cozy lines of the old style from large publishers where writers mass produce titles from templates and might use different names for different series.

Nevertheless writers still have good reasons for sporting nom de plumes. One is the aforementioned requirement that books need to sell well immediately. For the first-time author it's a case of three strikes and you're out at best, and more often one or two strikes and you're out. Mary and I know a fellow whose supposed three book contract from a well known publisher was canceled after his initial title failed to sell enough during its first two weeks of release. One advantage of having a smaller publisher is that, not being part of huge corporate conglomerates, they are not so obsessively sales driven. Such "failed" writers are poison to agents and publishers. Often the only way to get a second chance is to change one's name. Ever notice how many debut novels are out there, and how often how remarkably accomplished reviewers find them? That's partly because a huge number of those are only "debuts" of an experienced author's pseudonym.

Authors also change names to escape another kiss of death -- less than stellar sales figures under their original names recorded by services like Book Scan. If a book doesn't sell well bookstores won't order many copies of the next book, pretty much insuring it will sell even less.

Mary and I decided to employ a different name because the new WWII era book is so unlike our Byzantine series. As a reader I enjoy being surprised but most book purchasers do not. They want to know exactly what they are getting for their money and anyone who buys The Guardian Stones expecting it to be similar to our previous mysteries will be disappointed. Conversely, some people who wouldn't be inclined to try anything by authors who write about that boring old Byzantine Empire might not be inclined to give our new effort a chance. However, we don't make any secret of our authorship.

It's common for authors to differentiate amongst their work this way. Agatha Christie produced six romances as Mary Westmacott. When he wrote about the private detective firm, Cool and Lam, rather than defense lawyer Perry Mason, Erle Stanley Gardner used the name A. A. Fair. Ruth Rendell, well known for her Inspector Wexford police procedurals, published psychological crime novels as Barbara Vine.

Perhaps Mary and I should have used a pen name right from the start for our Byzantine series. Mary Mayer? After all, a joint effort really is the work of an author quite different from either singly. Thus, Ellery Queen was actually cousins Frederic Dannay and Manfred Lee, except when he was Dannay and Theodore Sturgeon, Avram Davidson, or Robert Sheckley. The mother-and-son historical mystery writing team of Caroline and Charles Todd goes by the name Charles Todd.

Besides, Mary and I are private and retiring sorts. We're happy to shove Eric Reed out into public while staying home ourselves.


We'll keep this section as brief as possible, given subscribers will doubtless be busy with holiday preparations of one kind or another. And so away we go...


We'll adopt telegraphic style to provide the essential details. Title: The Guardian Stones. Location: rural Shropshire. Time: the Second World War. Publication date: January 2016. Description: A dark mystery set in a village Kirkus Reviews declares is "beset by wartime demons even more insidious than the Third Reich". Author: Eric Reed. More info: The Guardian Stones page on the Poisoned Pen Press website:


Are demons to blame for certain distressing events in Murder In Megara? Certainly! Sounds unlikely, we admit, but at least one person claims so in this extract from Murder In Megara over on the Historical Fiction Excerpts blog:


Writers occasionally entertain sudden doubts about anachronisms creeping into their work in progress. This concern often relates to the content of informal conversations and Geese and Graves and Other Writerly Concerns suggests a method on how to avoid such boo-boos, as related on October 17th at the TypeM4Murder blog:

Food For Thought appeared on Marilyn Meredith's Musings blog on 9th November and deals with comestibles in our mysteries: the miracle of the melons and glass manna in Seven For A Secret, Theodora's ghastly outdoor banquet in Five For Silver, and The Gourd's only slightly less grim social gathering in Four For A Boy:


Then there was a guest essay for Patti Nunn's Bookbrowsing blog on 19th November, dealing with a vexing problem for historical mystery writers: could certain events in their books have taken place in the time period in which they are set?


Several reviews of Golden Age novels have been uploaded to our blog since last we met in cyber space, among them Charles E. Walk's The Paternoster Ruby, The Clue of the Twisted Candle by Edgar Wallace, and R. Austin Freeman's The Cat's Eye. The most recent dealt with The Brigand, another Edgar Wallace. Sounds sinister, doesn't it? Here's the blog page giving links to a number of other reviews:

While you're over there, be sure to read Eric's memories of Frank Sinatra!


On October 18th Eric recalled one of his grandparents' favourite flowers, thus releasing phlox of memories including four-legged ghosts rustling amid a sweet scented fog:

We're getting into sneezin' season and November 18th saw Mary advising readers to First Catch Your Cold, featuring Mrs Beeton's advice on dealing with the common cold. Hare over here for the skinny:

Subscribers might also care to read news about, and blogs by, other Poisoned Pen Press authors via the links on this page:


There are two locations I would never pass without investigation: older churchyards, especially in rural areas, and waxworks exhibitions. In the former case, my interest is in the statuary and inscriptions, in particular those of Victorian vintage, and in the latter, well, there is something so uncannily gripping about those suggestively lifeless figures they draw many to them. I am among those who find them to be so, and thus can truthfully say I'll wax enthusiastic about them at the drop of a glass eyeball.

Speaking of which, none has ever winked at me, thank goodness, although I did fall into the common trap of many visitors by attempting to converse with an attendant at Madam Tussauds' London waxworks. He was not flesh and blood, but certainly lifelike! And a right nana I felt, I can tell you.

Not surprisingly, fiction involving a waxworks tends to be connected with the supernatural. However, one of the best stories featuring such an exhibition, Edith Nesbit's The Power of Darkness, does not belong to that type although the inhabitants of the setting are appropriately disturbing. As she puts it, the figures in the Musée Grévin, a Parisian waxworks, are "so convincing, so very nearly alive. Given the right angle, their glass eyes met one's own, and seemed to exchange with one meaning glances". Her story is a nasty little biter-bit yarn in which a man challenges a friend he knows is terrified of the dark to hide overnight in the Musée, intending to give him a good scare. Its ending can be interpreted in more than one way.

To date I've only read one mystery novel in which a waxworks exhibition plays an important role in the plot. It was penned by Ethel Lina White, a favourite author of mine. In Wax, the Riverpool Waxwork Gallery has gained a sinister reputation after a chain of deaths there, starting with the builder who erected it hanging himself in the Hall of Horrors. The gallery has now declined even further to become, as the author puts it, "a place of assignation—of stolen meetings and illicit love". However, as the reader learns in due course the premises are also being put to another sordid use which ultimately ties in nicely with a spate of local crimes in a really inventive way. I'm planning on reviewing Wax for our blog's 27th December Golden Age of Mystery feature, so won't say more about it here except to reveal I reckon it's a cracking good yarn.

Having reached this point subscribers may be asking themselves if we will ever feature a waxworks in our own fiction. Well, as it happens we do have an unsold novel in which just such an exhibition makes an appearance, so it may be at some time hence readers will find themselves looking over the shoulders of our protagonists at the various tableau in Simkin's Celebrated Gallery of Wax (adults a penny, children half price).


In a couple of weeks we shall step through the gateway of the year and into 2016. May it be a better one in all ways than the one now passing into history! As Johann von Schiller remarked, the future cannot be known and any omen or dream predicting what will happen is false. Even so, we'll declare one possibility will be, while nothing is graven in stone and the power goes out now and then, the appearance of the next issue of Orphan Scrivener in our subscribers' in-boxes on February 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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