Harbingers of the new season sprung upon us over the course of late March. Admittedly Puxatawney Phil was up earlier than the mid-sized groundhog observed a couple of weeks back grazing its salad bar, otherwise known as the front lawn, but we've also had an occasional wood roach, apparently attracted by lights, flying in from the surrounding sylvan glades to share the shower. Any minute the annual invasion of the ants will begin, and we've already seen -- and heard -- woodpeckers at work in the pinewoods.

Speaking of birds, Richard Lawson Gales mentioned a proverb to the effect that March arrives with a snake's head and departs with a peacock tail. Now this latest issue of Orphan Scrivener has slithered into your inbox, we hope you'll continue reading for tales of a different sort....


Maybe the reason I’ve always been fascinated by games is because they allow us to make up their own stories while keeping us in suspense about the final outcome. When we used to play Clue as kids what I enjoyed most wasn’t solving the whodunnit puzzle but choosing the directions my quest would take as I wandered at will, going from the billiard room to the conservatory or the study or any other route I pleased. The story of how I conducted my investigation was more interesting to me than whether it was Mrs Peacock with the candlestick in the library

The first games I played, like Chutes and Ladders and Uncle Wiggly were simple races to the end. We threw dice, drew cards, or flicked a spinner and advanced space by space along a track. We experienced the story as it unrolled and it could become pretty intense if we ran afoul of the Skeezicks who lurked near to the end. But, as with a book, we weren’t allowed to influence events.

Monopoly was more sophisticated. Our journey around a preset route was still governed by chance, but we could make strategic decisions about property acquisition. In essence each Monopoly player makes up a different sort of story. Mine was always the same: Turn nose up at low and medium priced rental properties. Dream big instead. Accumulate $500 dollar bills surreptitiously under the board. Aspire to build hotels on Park Place and Boardwalk. Go bankrupt. It was a suitable story for the fifties, not unlike those Gold Medal style crime paperbacks about scheming losers with big ambitions who invariably come to a bad end. Not that I was reading those back then. Detective Comics was about as noir as I got.

The more flexible the game, the more it allowed players to do their own thing, the more I liked it. Park and Shop offered a map of streets and stores and let players plan their own itinerary as they tried to see who could complete their chores first. Careers went even further, letting players choose what goals they wanted to achieve by selecting some combination of love, money, and fame and then pursuing the appropriate professions.

I loved Stratego also, where each player tried to hide his or her flag piece from the opponent. Usually the flag would be protected by bombs deep in one’s own territory, which left open intriguing possibilities, putting the flag practically on top of your opponent’s front lines, for example, or placing it far away from where the bombs were clustered. Like particularly outrageous murder mystery solutions these ideas didn’t always work well but were too intriguing to pass up. We could admire ingenuity as much as winning.

War games demanded players write their own histories by pursuing strategies which resulted in victory or defeat, not unlike what occurs in the real world, sad to say. When abstract games of conquest such as Risk were joined by simulations of actual conflicts and battles, players could write alternative history. What if Germany had invaded Britain? Could the Confederacy have won the Civil War if it had fought differently?

By the time Dungeons and Dragons and other role-playing games came along I had become too busy playing life -- that game about getting an education and a job and a family -- to pay much attention. I guess today’s computer games give players a nearly endless range of story options. One can fight, go on quests, create worlds, or live a fabricated life. I would’ve loved those computer games when I was a kid, probably too much.

I did make a foray into games ten years ago. On the Internet I ran across text adventures which were briefly popular back in the eighties before computers got powerful enough to support decent graphics. In a text game the player types in commands to direct the actions of the protagonist and reads the results off the monitor. Text games are really interactive books, potentially a perfect melding of game and story. I even tried to write a few myself, with less than inspiring results given my lack of programming skills.

Books and games have a lot in common, not the least of which is they allow us to forget for a bit the not always perfect and all too real game of life. Which, come to think of it, was not a bad game itself. I especially liked the three dimensional plastic mountains the board’s track ran over. The Game of Life wasn’t a favorite of mine, however, because I usually ended up in the Poor House rather than Millionaire Acres. It was much too realistic. I prefer escapist fare.


This time around Eric gets most of the glory! Read on....


Eric's blog recently received a Dardos Award from Beverle Graves Myers, author of the Baroque Mystery series involving singer-sleuth Tito Amato. The Dardos Award recognises creative writing, and its name come from Premio Dardos, meaning prize darts in Italian. Thanks to Beverle, who blogs about Venice, 18th-century oddities, and Tito's backstory at Cruel Music


Chris Verstrate,, author of Searching For A Starry Night, asks what grabs you in a book? The cover, the blurbs? Likely it's the first paragraph, and more importantly, the first line. Read a few first lines and what the mystery/suspense authors responsible for them had to say about them in the spring Author Snapshot column in Mysterical-e, Click Author Snapshot under columns on table of contents page. Our thanks to Chris for the nod to Sevenfer's opening line!


Eric's boasting shelf was also recently augmented by a Sisterhood Blog Award from Julia Buckley. Currently pursuing a Masters Degree in English Literature, Julia is the author of two standalone novels, details of which can be found on her website The SBA is an award from bloggers, to bloggers, in recognition of a blog spot which shows great attitude and/or gratitude. We're certainly grateful for the news, and as for attitude, we hope ours is suitably humble!


After dinner was over, the dishes washed, homework done, and the table covered with the best tablecloth -- it was thick and red with an arabesque design and sported a long fringe -- my younger sister and I sometimes played games, particularly while staying up as shockingly late as 9 pm to hear The Goon Show or Journey Into Space on the wireless.

Sometimes we got out what some call the devil's picture book, a deck of cards. Since I whapped 'em down faster than my sister I won most rounds of Snap, though sometimes she would win the entire pile with a swifter shout of "Snap!" at the last slapdown. Then there was Twenty-One or Pontoon, which even a player averse to arithmetic like me could handle, though we never graduated to its bolder cousin, blackjack, or as some fancy players termed it vingt-et-un.

Sometimes we'd go in a few rounds of dominoes, that favourite played by patrons of the local working mens' clubs. Whoever drew the tile Timmy, our Heinz 57 mongrel, had chewed up -- it was the three/two spot if memory serves -- was at an instant disadvantage.

However, board games were my favourite time-passers. We'd long outgrown ludo, with its simple throw-the-die-and-move-that-number-of-spaces rules, as well as snakes and ladders with its retreats and advances for those moving round the board. It was, I now realise, a perfect template for life, with its unexpected ups and downs, though in life not all are beyond the control of the player, and this innocent game is recalled in John Ramsey Campbell's chilling Snakes and Ladders, which involves a man pursued by, well, beings we'd all prefer not to meet.

I had and indeed still have two favourite board games. The first is Monopoly. Like Eric, whose essay I just read, I inevitably spent all my money acquiring properties right, left, and in the Whitechapel and Old Kent Roads as well as upscale Mayfair and Park Lane and was therefore usually bankrupted due to rampant real estate speculation. This was exacerbated because we played a simplified version of our own invention whereby the person owning real estate charged the amount it cost to the player landing on the site, so it did not take long to burn through even the secret hoard of cash tucked under the board. Still, it was great fun and as close as we'll ever come to owning property in London or going to jail.

On the other hand, with Cluedo, I was quite good at guessing the culprit, the weapon used, and the location of the crime, though the latter part of the puzzle was hardest to pin down. But consider too that the creator of the game overlooked a vital component to any crime: the motive. Tut tut! What exciting scandals could be built up around and between Professor Plum, Mrs White, Miss Scarlett, Colonel Mustard, the Revd Green, and Mrs Peacock -- truly a colourful cast of characters, all of whom sound perfectly respectable but apparently have been guilty of multiple murders for decades!

Consider the murder weapon. A country mansion would certainly have at least one gun under its roof and a dagger could well feature in those collections of tulwars, sabres, krises, yataghans, and similar sharp-bladed instruments of destruction so commonly displayed on the walls of their entrance halls. It might even be kept on the study desk to do duty as a letter opener, while candlesticks are commonplace even in the best run households even unto this present time.

However, it's the presence of rope, a length of lead piping, and a spanner that leads me to speculate what on earth they could be doing in this elegant house. Admittedly the kitchen might be having its sink or plumbing replaced or repaired, explaining the lead piping, so we can eliminate that from our suspicions, but what of the spanner and rope?

As I see it, the master of the house would certainly employ a chauffeur, whose tool kit would doubtless include a spanner. Possibly the chauffeur absentmindedly left his spanner in the kitchen when he came in for a cuppa after tinkering with the motor engine. So a spanner would be fairly easy for anyone to obtain.

But the rope also intrigues. Is it a length cut from a skippy rope belonging to the children of servants living in estate housing? A washing line stolen from the back garden of the lodge? A towing rope carried in the boot of the family's limousine? All possibilities which again stress the criminal is someone familiar with the workings of the estate and one who also has access to the house.

I must say all in all things do look bad for the chauffeur!

I hasten to add this apparent familiarity with criminal enterprises and mayhem is due to reading as many Golden Age mysteries set in country houses as I could find as a youngster, a habit that ultimately led to my arrival in the mystery world and your reading this newsletter.

There's a moral in there somewhere.


Speaking of morals, Oscar Wilde was of the opinion books were neither moral nor immoral but rather were written well or badly. We make no claims for the quality of Orphan Scrivener scribblings, leaving it to subscribers to judge for themselves today and when the next issue wings into their in-boxes on June l5th.

See you then!

Mary R and Eric
who invite you to visit their home page, hanging out on the virtual washing line that is the web 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 e-texts 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

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