The gusty wind shaking the cornices of Casa Maywrite as this issue is composed is royally blotting its escutcheon, driving blinding snow squalls horizontally past windows as snarling Old Man Winter bares icicle teeth and gleefully paints white stripes down the windward sides of tree trunks and glazes unsuspecting tarmac with an inch of matching black ice.

As if such weather was not enough to chill subscribers' blood, now here comes the latest issue of Orphan Scrivener, itself enough to bring on an attack of the cold collywobbles.

Honore de Balzac opined tradesmen looked upon authors with a mixture of curiosity, terror, and compassion. We trust this isn't how subscribers view this newsletter and its scriveners -- but even if it is you may as well keep reading now you've got this far!


As a devotee of Golden Age and locked room detections, I enjoyed Mary Roberts Rinehart's When A Man Marries, a blending of both. As I related in a review over on Mystery File, as the plot unspools one of several young folk who suddenly find themselves quarantined in a large house because the butler has just been stricken with smallpox wagers a large sum they'll all escape from quarantine within 24 hours.

I got a particular kick from this novel I once spent some time in quarantine. However, unlike WAMM no mouthwatering food hampers from upscale emporiums were delivered to our door and we had no officer of the law locked in our furnace room, largely because we had no furnace. Our lumps of honest working class nutty slack fueling our kitchen fire lived in the coal hole under the stairs going down from scullery door to back yard. As for food, we ate our usual fare, heavy on carbohydrates and washed down with highly sweetened and villainously strong tea. Except for my younger sister, who had scarlet fever and could scarcely manage soft nourishment such as jelly or blancmange.

My durance vile, then, was necessary under health regulations vis a vis precautions against the spread of infectious diseases.

Philippa Pearce's l958 classic YA novel Tom's Midnight Garden may be the only such work whose launching point is directly related to these requirements, for Tom is packed off to stay with an aunt and uncle because his brother is suffering from measles. In our case, however, my sister had came down with something much worse. Commonly described as strep throat with a rash, it's more than that. It can be fatal and in some cases lead to rheumatic fever or kidney damage but neither of us knew that at the time. I'd forgotten that in Little Women, Jo and Meg March both recovered from bouts with it but when Beth caught it she never recovered full health and it contributed to her death at a young age. Then too my sister's illness also occurred some years before I read Frankenstein, in which Victor Frankenstein's mother dies from scarlet fever caught from Victor's cousin Elizabeth.

Thus it was that my sibling, flushed and feverish and with the tell-tale "strawberry" tongue and bumpy rash, had to be sent off to the local isolation hospital. She was carried downstairs, looking very small and frail on a stretcher somehow maneuvered around the narrow L at the top of our steep stairs and under the shelf halfway down the flight where our gas meter resided. After she was trundled away in the big white ambulance, disinfection of various items and boiling of bed linen and such got under way. Officially quarantined, I remained off school but at home for three or four days, allowing time for the illness to put in its second appearance at our house if it was going to do so.

But the thing of it was I didn't want my sister to be alone at the isolation hospital. Parents were not allowed to go on the wards and could only look at their ailing children through a corridor window. Patients' siblings of course were not even allowed to set foot on the premises. How then to accomplish the plan?

My mother had warned me that under no circumstances was I to utilise the crockery and cutlery set aside for my sister's naturally when alone I did just that, hoping to fall ill and be hauled off to isolation as well. Just to make certain I had also washed after my sister, using the same water and borrowing her towel. But it was no go. My immune system must have been working on time and a half, as I never caught scarlet fever although it was certainly not for lack of trying.

Before my sister was whisked away with luggage consisting only of toothbrush, slippers, nighty, and dressing gown I gave her one of my dolls to take with her. Alas, another thing we didn't know was the iron-clad rule that when such cherished possessions were taken into the isolation hospital they never came back out. Thankfully my sister got better and came home in due course -- but I'm still annoyed about that doll.


The ticker has been chugging away merrily so let's get right to it!


Although Seven For A Secret will not creep out into the world until April, early reviews are just now beginning to appear. To our amazed delight, we've hooked a starred review in Library Journal:

"The authors get everything right in their latest historical. The story is fast paced, the tensions between characters well portrayed; the ending leaves the reader clamoring for more." (2/2/2008)

Read this and other reviews on our page at


Mary will soon be wearing the Criminal History web site's Resident GAD Reviewer chapeau. She's delved into many Golden Age mystery novels and the resulting reviews, which will uploaded monthly, can be perused from March onward on the Golden Age section at


Eric's been wearing his Apprentice Webmaster hat a fair bit lately, having been busy adding a new page to our website. is devoted to Mithraism, with links to articles and photos related to the god secretly worshipped by John and his friends, a dangerous practice in an officially Christian court.


Courtney Mroch, writer and Petscribe blogger on, recently grilled us like kippers about animals in our mysteries and pets past and present. We suspect few of her interviewees have laid claim to plots featuring such unusual but vital characters as a herd of fortune-telling goats and a mechanical whale and his real life counterpart! Subscribers can read our thoughts on these and related matters at Our thanks to Courtney for the honour of appearing in her blog.


And now a word from our author...

Looking for a great deal on mysteries set in sixth century Constantinople?

Don't miss our big Byzantine blowout!

Yes, it's that time again. With Seven For A Secret due to appear in April, Mary and I once again face the dreaded necessity of promotion. Before our first book came out we were under the misapprehension that writers just wrote. We had no idea that they would need to spend as much time shilling their books as composing them. Only when we started to learn about the publishing industry from the inside did we discover that most publishers expect their authors to double as sales representatives, public speakers, and stand-up comedians, not to mention being photogenic and possibly doing a bit of juggling and sleight of hand as well.

Rather than researching the history of the Eastern Roman Empire and figuring out clues we should have been practicing our stage make-up and working on a song and dance routine.

But don't worry! Mary and I won't be doing any gum-shoe soft-shoe in your direction any time soon. We promise not to fill your inbox with spam or your post box with junk mail. We most assuredly will never chase you down a bookstore aisle and force our book into your hands, as some authors have bragged of doing. Alas for our literary ambitions, neither of us are mercenary sorts and Poisoned Pen Press has been unusually willing to accommodate our promotion efforts without insisting on personal appearances. And just as well. There are two of us. While Mary was distracting you with that novel in the bookstore aisle I could be picking your pocket.

I lack the talent for selling anyhow. I sit at home and write precisely because I don't want to be appearing in public. I hope our mysteries are entertaining. I'm certainly not. I'm not being modest, either. There's nothing very entertaining about some guy shuffling his feet and mumbling into his beard. To be fair, if I had to speak in front of a large audience I might possibly pass out, which would be exciting if that's the sort of thing you enjoy. And I realize plenty of people do. When I broke my leg in gym class in Junior High the ambulance came racing to the school. Sirens, flashing lights, a grotesque injury, men with stretchers! I had the audience eating out of my hand even if they were all standing around in their gym shorts. It's kind of a grueling act though. Maybe if I were a guest of honor....

I question whether it is truly necessary for writers to perform in order to sell their books. Okay, so Charles Dickens and Mark Twain were famous for their lecture tours. And, yes, humorist Robert Benchley made movie shorts. Then too, Mickey Spillane played his own detective Mike Hammer on the screen. And, yes, admittedly, Kinky Friedman is his own detective and plays in a band. So what does that prove? Not all of us can be Kinky Friedman. Just because J. D. Salinger never sang Get Your Biscuits In The Oven and Your Buns In Bed does that mean Catcher in the Rye should never have been published?

So maybe Salinger could sell a lot more books and get really famous if he'd just do more signings at Waldenbooks. Maybe he does do signings at Waldenbooks. That's why no one ever sees him. I've sat out in front of Waldenbooks with a stack of new novels and believe me, you become invisible. No one sees an author waiting to sign. Mystery writer Parnell Hall even has a song he sings about this very situation at convention appearances. It's most entertaining. Parnell's another one of those multi-talented fellows. Another exception. They say the exception proves the rule. So the more exceptions the better the proof. I've got more proof than I can shake a stick at, and sometimes I'd like to shake a stick at the whole lot of them. What's the matter with these authors being good at so many different things?

And I don't know J. D. Salinger, by the way. Maybe he sings Get Your Biscuits In The Oven and Your Buns In Bed in the shower, but he sure doesn't do it in front of Waldenbooks, and I'll bet he sings flat and off key too. And he calls himself a writer!


When in The Merchant of Venice Shakespeare describes a communication as containing some of the most unpleasant words that ever put a blot on paper he was not referring to our newsletter. Unless he had a time machine in his cellar, that is. However, given the next issue of Orphan Scrivener will sidle into subscribers' inboxes on l5th April, Tax Return Day for American subscribers, it's an observation fitting both horrid events. You still have time to leave the country but if not, we'll see you then!

Mary R and Eric

who invite you to visit their home page, hanging out on the virtual washing line at There you'll discover the usual suspects, including more personal essays, lists of author freebies and mystery-related newsletters, Doom Cat (an interactive game written by Eric), a jigsaw featuring the handsome cover of Five For Silver, and our growing pages of links to free etexts of classic and Golden Age mysteries, ghost stories, and tales of the supernatural. There's also an Orphan Scrivener archive, so don't say you weren't warned! Intrepid subscribers may also wish to pop over to Eric's blog at