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(C) Mason Ball 2019

The Thirty Five Timely & Untimely Deaths Of Cumberland County

MEDIA KIT

1934: a doctor struggles with belief, mortality and murder; 

a novel inspired by real events

For any media requests please contact Elisabeth Hannah, 07747 635631
 
 
Synopsis
Reviews
Where to buy
Technical Info
Additional media
FAQs
Author Bio
Social Media Links
 
Excerpts
 
Downloadable Content:
Media Kit (PDF)
Cover Image (PDF)
Author Images
Pages from the Medical Journal
 
Synopsis

1934: a doctor struggles with belief, mortality and murder; a novel inspired by real events

John M. Bischoffberger is a Pennsylvanian doctor adrift in the relative wilds of Maine during the dying years of the great depression. Struggling with a loss of religious faith and retreating from painful memories of The Great War, John has married and set up practice in the town of Naples.

As Medical Examiner for Cumberland County, it is also John's job to investigate deaths that occur under unusual or suspicious circumstances. Yet as he goes about his work, he begins to suspect that the deaths he is called upon to document are in fact far from routine.

Against his better judgement, he becomes convinced that an uneasy alliance of three itinerants is going about the county, killing. An old woman, a little girl and a thin man are fulfilling some strange and unspoken duty, drowning, suffocating, hanging and the like, men, women and children; each of the three harbouring a profound distrust of the other two, yet still this queer confederacy press on with their murderous work.

John confides in local outsider Joseph, an older man who becomes John's only outlet for his impossible fears. All the while the three continue to kill, and the deaths seem to be drawing closer to John: others who may suspect foul play, then acquaintances of John, then perhaps friends, even family members.

As the storm clouds of a new world war gather in Europe, and John's rationality slowly unravels, he must find a way to disprove what he has reluctantly come to believe, or to confirm his worst fears and take steps to end the killing spree of the three in the woods, whatever the cost.

With a narrative switching between the doctor and the trio of murderers, and inspired by, and including, genuine accounts made by the real Dr. John M. Bischoffberger in his medical journal between 1934 and 1941, The Thirty Five Timely & Untimely Deaths of Cumberland County weaves about them a fictional and dreamlike story of faith, community, and how we deal with life in the shadow of mortality.

Reviews

4 and 5 stars on Good Reads:

 

“A most peculiar tale and one I couldn’t put down... this will be one of those books that will haunt me for a long time”

“The writing is at times exquisite.”

“beautifully written and thought-provoking, and sometimes rather scary”

“I loved this book and I intend to read it again.”

“I couldn’t put down”

Where to buy

Amazon                       https://www.amazon.co.uk/Thirty-Timely-Untimely-Deaths-Cumberland/dp/191158670X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1530105699&sr=1-1

Author Direct              https://masonball.bigcartel.com/

 

Technical Info

Publisher:                  Unbound
Author:                      Mason Ball
Cover Design:            Mecob
Page Count:               400
ISBN (Print):             978-1-191158-670-8
Release Date:             July 3rd 2018

 

Additional media

Book Page                   www.masonball.co.uk/thethirtyfive

Video Teaser               https://youtu.be/Ka0XR4P-HSQ

FAQs

How did you come up with the idea for the book?

Some years ago, on my thirtieth birthday, my then girlfriend (now wife) decided that I should collect something and knowing me as she did, she decided that what I should collect was antique medical equipment. To this day I have a lovely cabinet of wonderful and grotesque… things, of varying archaic medical use and brutal if utilitarian aesthetic.

However, one day while searching the internet for something to add to my collection, she came across Bischoffberger’s Medical Examiner’s Record. A large hardcover book, a ledger of deaths stretching from 1934 to 1954, the record instantly drew me in. As I read, my previous disparate ideas and abortive attempts at the story coalesced into a whole (albeit a strange one) and the novel began to take shape in my mind.

 

How would you describe the 35 Deaths?

It’s not so much a historical novel as a novel based on real events and featuring some real people but which takes those incidents and characters and imposes a fictional, even fantastical, framework upon them. 

 

Who has influenced you in the writing of this novel?  I’d say the novel’s biggest influences are probably Cormac McCarthy and David Lynch, though I’m not sure it’s that much like either of them; but I suppose every writer’s work is a conglomeration of their own influences, visible or not.

 

How did you go about researching Main in the 1930’s? This is the first piece I’ve written that is even close to being historical in setting and so, beyond the reading of the medical record itself, I had to embark on more research than ever before. The joy of research is that, no matter what, you will find incredible and unexpected things, many of which seem almost tailor made to fit into your narrative.

I found local history books online, sourced period maps of the area (I also used Google Earth a lot!) and even managed to find a book of historical photographs of the region; I cannot deny a slight shiver running through me upon finding within this book a picture of Doctor Bischoffberger himself looking back at me.

 

 

 

 

Author Bio

Following his poem Fireworks Fireworks Bang Bang Bang at the age of six, Mason eventually took the whole writing thing a little more seriously, graduating in 2009 from London Metropolitan University, having received first class honours in Creative Writing.

In his second year, he won the Sandra Ashman award for his poem Mother Theresa in the Winner’s Enclosure.  He has subsequently had work published in Succour magazine and Brand magazine.

Mason is currently developing his next novel. In addition to this, he writes, co-produces and hosts the award-winning monthly cabaret night The Double R Club (as Benjamin Louche, winner of “Best Host” at the London Cabaret Awards). He also worked as a creature performer on Star Wars: The Force Awakens & The Last Jedi.

​Mason is a trustee of the charity Cabaret vs Cancer, and lives in East London with his wife, a cat called Monkey, and a collection of antique medical equipment.

 

Links

Website: https://www.masonball.co.uk

GoodReads: https://www.goodreads.com/MasonBall

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/MasonBallAuthor 

Twitter: https://twitter.com/masonballauthor 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Excerpts

#1 226 words

 

The pale hand grew out of the dark sandy earth like some rarefied tulip, incongruous and impossible, filthy fingers reaching upwards for something, sunlight maybe; fresh air. John rested on his haunches where the lawn met the mud and looked over at it, his own fingers wandering along the seams of his blazer, perhaps counting stitches. A hand. A tulip, he thought, or an orchid stripped of its terrarium. 

Some foot or so away from the hand a pillowcase covered a small rise in the ground, leeching the wet mud into its whiteness, looking for all the world like a dropped handkerchief; a warm breeze tugged at it, briefly describing the face hidden beneath, an eye socket, the bridge of a nose. 

The hand had a relaxed quality, a nonchalance that didn’t belong. John recalled picture books he’d seen as a child, Adam’s hand on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel: Adam impassive, aloof almost; in contrast God’s reaching, almost greedily, at creation. Despite Michelangelo’s artistry, young John had always been drawn to the space between them. He’d marveled at the idea that God could create man without even touching him. Abracadabra. Man touches to create, his mother had replied, God don’t need to more than think and it’s done. Alacazam. Still the reaching had troubled the boy. 

A sudden silhouette threw the hand in shade. 

 

 

 

#2 974 words

The pale hand grew out of the dark sandy earth like some rarefied tulip, incongruous and impossible, filthy fingers reaching upwards for something, sunlight maybe; fresh air. John rested on his haunches where the lawn met the mud and looked over at it, his own fingers wandering along the seams of his blazer, perhaps counting stitches. A hand. A tulip, he thought, or an orchid stripped of its terrarium. 

Some foot or so away from the hand a pillowcase covered a small rise in the ground, leeching the wet mud into its whiteness, looking for all the world like a dropped handkerchief; a warm breeze tugged at it, briefly describing the face hidden beneath, an eye socket, the bridge of a nose. 

The hand had a relaxed quality, a nonchalance that didn’t belong. John recalled picture books he’d seen as a child, Adam’s hand on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel: Adam impassive, aloof almost; in contrast God’s reaching, almost greedily, at creation. Despite Michelangelo’s artistry, young John had always been drawn to the space between them. He’d marveled at the idea that God could create man without even touching him. Abracadabra. Man touches to create, his mother had replied, God don’t need to more than think and it’s done. Alacazam. Still the reaching had troubled the boy. 

A sudden silhouette threw the hand in shade. 

“Sorry you was called, Bisch.” Deputy Lewellyn Welch hooked his thumbs into his pants, winced into the sun. “Ol Deihlan’s off with Dean to scare up some shovels. Take them an me a long hour to dig Walter out. You don’t mind waitin, sure Cora won’t mind you doin so in the house.” 

The doctor stood on crunching knees, smiling away the inference that he was in the way of things. 

Some Mainers still held him at a cordial arm’s length, an innate suspicion and dislike of all things outside; and him having been there coming on eight and a half years. They were far and away from impolite or unfriendly, there being a genuine warmth just as intrinsic to their collective nature, often spilling over into friendship of the truest kind; yet still a distance existed, though Rosamond would tell him it was all in his head. Perhaps it was. Sometimes townsfolk even used the phrase ‘from away’ within his earshot, a candor which he flattered himself might speak of some kind of progress toward integration, or as near to it as he was ever likely to get. 

“She still make that pound cake Lew?” 

“I believe I smell the oven from here. We’ll come call you when we get the fella out.” They nodded at one another, threw glances at the road, the trees beyond, and back up at the house. John stroked at his moustache, stalling for time so as not to feel like a child doing as he was told; he thought the deputy knew it too. Lewellyn nodded again, as if deciding the doctor needed further persuasion, “We don’t get him out of there before noon the sun’ll be up higher and bake him like he’s in a clay oven, that happens I don’t know what.” 

John had treated Walter last spring but couldn’t recall what for. Ulcer maybe. Big eyes, dark rings, turkey’s wattle and thinning hair streaked flat to the scalp with pomade. Had a son all grown up, moved over Casco way. He tried to join the hand poking out of the mud with the man but struggled. The hand was its own thing now, its own creation, un-needful of a man to carry it around, to employ it with the business of the doing of human things. 

He recoiled a little at the thought of Walter’s last moments, of drowning in dirt, the weight and grip of it, the panic. He replaced the feeling with a sadness and duty. 

“You’ll worry the handle right off that bag ayours Doc.” Perhaps a note of insistence, of patience being lost. John stilled his thumb on the thick leather seam, took a fresh hold. 

“You come call me,” he said. Flickering a smile, he headed for the house, stealing one last look as he did so, the pillowcase now fringed in brown, the blossoming hand pale and reaching. 

Cora Gottam met him at the door, fingers clasped bloodless, graying hair escaping the hastily pinned ‘pug’ on her head. 

“It’s terrible doctor. Poor Mr. Sylvester. His poor wife. They’ve struggled so. He’s gone to his glory now. His father, his baby sister. Did you know the family, doctor? The earth here is so loose they say. Sandy. Do you think it was the earth doctor? I feel so terrible. I only asked that he- He’d done the same for a friend of mine over in Harrison. We needed a well. I knew he and Mr. Deihlan needed money. Do you think it was the Raymond earth?” John had no answer that didn’t make him feel fraudulent in some way, but spoke nonetheless. 

He told her he’d known Walter, he told her he didn’t know about Raymond earth, that it was just a terrible accident and that was that. He settled for The earth does what it wants Mrs. Gottam, adding, we all have to drink water. They sat in the kitchen over coffee and Cora caught her breath. The kitchen felt empty, the house cold; vacant shelves and an unlit stove. No pound cake and no ingredients to make it. Cora asked after Ros, said there was a recipe she meant to pass on, her hands calming against the warm cup. She apologized for what she called her hysteria, told him she’d say a prayer for Walter come Sunday in church. He told her he’d see her there and she looked at him with an unreadable sadness, as if perhaps she doubted it. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#3 1,200 words

 

The old woman rests on the muddy bank, breathing hard. She blinks wildly, a wide rictus, almost a smile, grasping desperately at each inhalation. For a moment it seems as if she may collapse, pass out, perhaps even suffer a heart attack. She doesn’t. 

Her head falls forward, rocking with each breath. Through her thinning hair beads of lake water weave and roll forward, collecting, before racing in rivulets over the sharp ridges of her eyebrows and down her face. 

She’ll be alright in a minute, she’ll be alright in a minute. 

The knots of her fingers flutter lightly in the air about her knees, wrinkled and aquiver in the warm midday air. Wisps of thin white hair hang down her cheeks in ropes, deep lines crisscross her taut chin and wrinkled, hanging neck. Rags of wet clothes cling to her rawboned arms and legs, blister with moisture and stick to her shriveled, soft gut, her fallen chest. 

She’s been old for as long as she can remember. 

Even through exhaustion, features poke their way through. A strong jaw line, speaking of past stoicisms, of gristle and strength; rheumy eyes, a sadness hiding in pale blue irises, a hard-heartedness, perhaps even cruelty, hiding behind that. Large putty-colored ears, swollen and doughy with age, a twist to the pitted nose betraying a break, never properly set; a corrugation of forehead, ploughed by lifetimes of concern, of hard and thankless work. 

Her breath is returning, as it always does, the feathery weakness in her limbs congealing into something approaching strength enough to stand, to move on. 

Nearby on the bank sit her shoes, scuffed and patient; men’s shoes. The cool Sebago licks playfully at her gnarled and naked toes as they sink into the mud, something of an echo of the invisible animal of cold and drowning that the old woman knows only too well lies hungry and blind along the lake bed. 

Submerged, she’s oftentimes heard the lake whisper in its raw bass tones, the torn, empty kettle sound of bubbles, a silt-edged whisper that to crawl up and sleep down there was just about the best idea you ever had. She knows the voice well, intimately, like sweet nothings, a tryst of more years standing than she cares to recall. Sometimes it sounds like her own voice. 

She wonders distantly how many of the folks that lived around those parts had heard it too, how many of them had heard it and made it back to the surface. But then she knows the answer to that question. 

Gingerly she maneuvers onto all fours and taking one final deep breath, pushes herself into a crooked standing position. There are places to be, things to get done, and no other way to get there than shanks’ mare. Gaining uneasy balance from an obliging tree, she steps first into her shoes and finally back into the woods from whence she came.

Doctor John Bischoffberger sat reading in his small backroom office, full of a late if meager lunch and as stilled as he was able. Turning a page, he exhaled the morning. 

Oxygen and carbon dioxide be damned. Schooling had taught him the biology of breathing, the mechanics, yet still he held on to a fragment of something he’d thought as a child; that breathing in drew things into you, sometimes bad things, whereas breathing out was somehow ridding you of these things. A childish but instinctive piece of foolishness. Somehow in his young mind inhaling had become of less value than exhaling; memories of the fear of swallowing bad smells, of holding his breath. In this way he exhaled Mrs. Abbott’s boils and Myron Walker’s rattling lungs, the Winant boy’s swollen tonsils; a stubbed toe, automobile trouble threatening a return to Higgins Garage, the beggar he passed on Lambs Mill Road, the shoeless child on Quaker Ridge. He read on, emptying himself. 

His neglected paperwork glared reproachfully at his back; paperless, his typewriter petulantly bared its teeth. 

Organon of the Healing Art by S. Hahnemann seemed to John a book both fascinating and fascinatingly absurd. Published in 1810, Hahnemann’s ‘law of similars’ stated that any effective medicine would produce symptoms in a healthy patient which mirror those it might be used to treat in an ailing one. An idea apparently perverse and backward; a corruption of Shakespeare’s sweets to the sweet thought John, perhaps bane to the blighted. The genesis of Homeopathy. 

As John read, his hand toyed with the contents of his desk, as if let loose to play on its own, picking up his fountain pen, thumbing through a neat stack of records, shifting his inkwell to and fro across the blotter. Ros called him The Careful Fidget. When in thought his fingers would unconsciously and carefully explore his surroundings; desk, letter opener, medical bag, shirt buttons etc., as if in search of something, or perhaps seeking to ensure that all was as it should be, all as he’d left it, before he then left on his ideation, which he did often. 

To avoid any serious ill effects, Hahnemann proposed that substances used homeopathically be given only in “extreme dilutions”, a step which made much of the medical profession suggest that while such tiny amounts of substances were unlikely to do any great harm, due to their weakness, it was equally unlikely that they could do any real good either. As such, many dismissed Homeopathy’s claimed successes as mere placebo. John was inclined to agree. 

Ros always told him that when they met he “looked like a man chasin somethin,” to which he always wryly replied “and I found that somethin when I found you, my dear.” Much as John knew that their courtship had been true and their marriage as sound as any and sounder than most, in truth he doubted somehow that this search of his was over, whatever it was for; something about the medical mindset, the eternal unconscious hunt for the magical panacea. A small but perennial disquiet. 

When prescribing a placebo John knew you had to wrap it up quick in something strong and convincing, lest it spoil; something off the cuff. Dwell too long and the patient might see the lie in it. It was worth remembering that doctors were gods to some but no more than snake oil charlatans to others. Quick and strong was the rule. 

But then perhaps all Herr Hahnemann had done was to have found another way. Dressed it up maybe. Ostentation and rigmarole. Slow and fancy. Maybe that’s all Homeopathy was. The question was, if it worked, did it matter? 

Aside from inappropriate use to treat, say, a life threatening illness, if it were to preclude actual treatment to the detriment of the patient; apart from such an eventuality he thought the practice perhaps none too far away from harmless. 

The innately ‘folksy’ nature of so many of Homeopathy’s remedies might well appeal greatly to many of his patients, he thought, particularly those with a keen skepticism of this Pennsylvanian doctor ‘from away’ with his pills and his ointments, his city tinctures and tonics. Maybe he’d look into it, give it a try. Maybe. 

The phone rang.