Since our views are now restricted by thick foliage in all directions we can declare June has officially finished busting out all over. We struggled mightily to keep this issue of Orphan Scrivener locked up, but it managed to break its fetters, bust out, and is now making for subscribers' in-boxes. Looks like it just arrived in yours...


We all have talents but yet regret skills we should like to have mastered but somehow never got round to it. If subscribers had world enough and time, which would they strive to obtain?

Since I ask, it's only fair I should start the ball rolling. So, skills I would like to master include the ability to... the Ukulele. I see it as a musical instrument that presents itself as friendly and funny, and just playing it would be a real cheerer-upper on those dark days that come into every life. My second choice: the accordion. Accordionists are welcome in Pennsylvania, where polka reigns and an accordion is de rigueur as accompaniment. It was my younger sister who got all the musical genes in the Reed family. Hence the old joanna in our scullery, not the sort of artefact commonly found in Victorian artisans' dwellings as they advertise old terraced housing these days. Come to think of it some instruments have reeds, but not this one. I can however play the kazoo. music. I can generally manage to get fairly close to getting to grips with it to be able to follow those round things with tails if someone hums the first few notes to give me a start at it. Not that this sad lack of erudition has held me back, for I can manage to carry a tune without a bucket and despite this desperate lack of musical knowledge I still somehow wound up in a choir serenading a royal personage visiting Tyneside.

...climb a rope. I was a dead duck right from the start when the class played pirates in the gym at the end of each term. Girls remaining in the game to the end were always those perched up high on the parallel bars or at the top of ropes hanging from the ceiling. Fortunately I have no ambition to join the crew of a tall ship, much as I love the sight of them under sail. Watching crew members on the Onedin Line casually working along a spar at a nose-bleeding height while engaged in manning the yards was close enough for me, given I don't care to have my feet too far off the ground v ....speak fluent French. While I was the despair of Madame Dunmall at grammar school, like my classmates my pronunciation was considered not too bad for, as she told us, the Geordie accent's rolling rrrrrrsss gave us a head start on acquiring a decent l'accent français. The only time I used my fractured French after leaving school was in addressing the house cat, a half-Siamese tabby named Jean-Paul. I don't think he really understood what I said, though, as most of the time he ignored my requests. On the other paw, since as Eric has remarked, cats like hectographs have minds of their own and it may have been disgust at my awkward francais.

...get and keep the right tension when knitting. That always seemed to cause problems. My most ambitious project was a navy blue sweater created with very thick stranded wool on large wooden knitting needles. Due to said difficulty, it came out wider than it was long. My friends called it Mary's horse blanket, although my contention is they must have been thinking of sea horses as it had a sailor collar.

...whistle in that particularly penetratingly shrill fashion produced with the aid of two fingers. I've never been able to master this useful method for summoning taxis, attracting someone's attention, or just making celebratory noise. I can however whistle in the ordinary way, whereas my mother could not whistle by either method.

...more easily think of essay topics for Orphan Scrivener.

Oh well.


The ticker continues to click along merrily and so here's the latest news....


We are currently writing the sequel to The Guardian Stones in which Grace Baxter, now an auxiliary policewoman, has now been posted to Newcastle. Set in December 1941, dark doings are afoot and events take a murderous turn only a day after she arrives to take up her duties in the industrial city.


We have discovered by accident an unknown reader has erected a Wiki page devoted to quotations from from John's adventures. We have no notion who was responsible for this development but confess we were chuffed to see it! Here's the page in question:,_the_Lord_Chamberlain


You never know when past endeavours will pop up on the intertubes. Just last month Amazing Stories Magazine devoted a column to a product of Eric's long ago purple finger days, which is to say when he produced on fanzine on a hectograph and dreamed of the remote possibility of getting his hands on a used spirit duplicator. Reproductions of a few coloured covers show how much can be done with a hectograph:


May was International Short Story Month and the Short Mystery Fiction Society's blog marked the occasion by announcing links to members' short mystery stories each day throughout the month.

Or Equivalent Experience, Mary's contribution to the May jamboree, was inspired by an advertisement in a St Louis paper some years ago and the SMF blog on the 5th provided a link to the story's archived page at Kings River Life at

The Society was formed in the 1990s to increase publication of, and regard for, mystery and crime stories in this form. Interested parties can find more info about the Society at


The last couple of Casa Maywrite contributions to the Poisoned Pen Press blog passed on sage writing advice given by characters in fiction by John Buchan and J. J. Farjeon. From Buchan's The Three Hostages comes Plot Construction Advice From Dr. Tom Greenslade:

Further light is cast on this vexed topic by Farjeon's authoress Edyth Fermoy-Jones in Thirteen Guests under the title of, well, Plot Construction Advice From Edyth Fermoy-Jones:

If Golden Age mysteries or what we can only call tongue-in-cheek writing advice are not their portmanteaux, subscribers may still care to check the Poisoned Pen blog now and then to read news and blogs about and by our fellow Poisoned Pen and Poisoned Pencil authors.


Necessary Evil this time round is turning into a Farjeon Festival, given his Thirteen Guests was one of the most recent Golden Age reviews appearing on our blog. Other new reviews since we last darkened subscriber's in-boxes include Louis Tracy's The Postman's Daughter, The Mystery of the Thirteenth Floor by Lee Thayer, and A Silent Witness by R. Austin Freeman. The newest review is The Blue Hand by Edgar Wallace

Another Wallace review, this time of The Joker, goes live this Sunday at


Since we began writing together Mary and I have taken as our model the Golden Age detective novels of the twenties and thirties rather than the modern thriller. Agatha Christie, who exemplifies the era, provided fairly clued puzzles and little overt violence. Unlike thrillers, classic mysteries are intellectual rather visceral.

Poisoned Pen Press is the American publisher for the British Crime Classics series. Reading the 1936 mystery Thirteen Guests by J. Jefferson Farjeon, triggered some reflections on old style mysteries.

In Thirteen Guests, Lord Aveling, an ambitious politician, is hosting a week-end social gathering at his estate. The guests are a bag of licorice all-sorts. A cricketer, a novelist, an artist, a gossip columnist, and a “sausage king” among others. Varied indeed, but just as licorice all-sorts all feature licorice, these guests all seem to have a motive or opportunity for murder.

The many characters are vivid enough to be easily remembered, ranging from the comical to the sinister, several drawn with considerable complexity. In fact, the murderer is eventually revealed, not only by the clues Farjeon scatters about but also by the gradual illumination of both the characters' psychology and the shadowy relationships between them. Only people who have never read Golden Age mysteries imagine that they typically feature cardboard stereotypes.

The modern reader may be startled, or bemused, to find that the first murder doesn't occur until nearly halfway through the novel. These days it is de rigueur for the murder to occur early. (Or should I say de rigor mortis?) Someone better trip over a corpse, preferably horribly mutilated, by the end of the first chapter, or readers will give up (supposedly), bored to tears. Death in the first sentence is the ideal.

I'd like to see delayed murders make a comeback. For one thing, it allows readers to watch the characters interacting before the murder, rather than the entire book being retrospective as the detective delves into events that happened in the past. It also gives the reader a chance to guess who the victim is going to be.

Why people need to have the murder occur instantly is beyond me. If you're reading a murder mystery you already know, by definition, that a murder is going to occur sooner or later. Waiting for the murder to be sprung and wondering who will die adds suspense.

The puzzle aspect of Golden Age mysteries is a bit problematic for me, as a reader. In Thirteen Guests Farjeon offers no end of seemingly inexplicable events, simmering animosities, comings and goings in the night. Characters are in the hall, or on the stairs, or coming quietly in through the back door at this hour and that minute after the hour. It is all dreadfully fascinating.

But can I actually keep track of it and put the puzzle together to discover the murderer?


I love Farjeon's long, complex, solution which ties everything together. I admire it in the same way I might admire the gears and wheels and springs inside a clock. The intricacy amazes me but there's no chance I could have put it together myself.

If you plan on trying to beat Farjeon's Detective-Inspector Kendall, read and reread, take notes, make charts, and, most definitely, keep a timetable.

As for me, I never guess the murderer. Which oddly does not detract from my enjoyment of puzzle mysteries.

One morning in Thirteen Guests there is a stag hunt. The sporty types ride off in pursuit of the stag, hoping to be in on the kill. The less sporty types, including the sausage king and the novelist (naturally) elect to be chauffeured over the back roads in a limo, hopefully to observe the hunt now and then from suitable vantage points.

I guess that's me, when it comes to mysteries. Some are in on the hunt but I'm there as a spectator.


Speaking of spectators, it's said they see most if not all of the game. At this point subscriber spectators have perused almost the entirety of this issue, so it remains only for us to remind them the next Orphan Scrivener will sport itself into your in-box on August 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, a 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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