The Thirty Five Timely & Untimely Deaths Of Cumberland County

By Mason Ball

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

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Publication date: Summer 2018

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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 Dutch Wives weaves about them a fictional and dreamlike story of faith, community, and how we deal with life in the shadow of mortality.


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  • Mason Ball avatar

    Mason Ball

    Mason struggles to recall a time when he wasn't writing something (although it's true to say that, of all he's written, seldom has it been in the third person). Following his poem Fireworks Fireworks Bang Bang Bang at the age of six, he eventually took the whole thing a little more seriously, graduating in 2009 from London Metropolitan University, having received a first class honours degree in Creative Writing, finishing within the university's top 50 students. 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).

    An actor of sorts for much of his adult life, Mason would quite like one day to write for a living, so as to never have to dress up as a bar of chocolate again. No, not a joke, that actually happened; pledge and maybe I'll show you a picture.

  • 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.

  • Mason Ball has written 7 private updates. You can pledge to get access to them all.

    26th September 2016 On Advertising & Its Inherent Agenda...

    Hey there, shed-dwellers,

    Thought I'd pen a little post concerning my past life capering about in front of cameras in the employ of various corporate hawkers and salespersons.

    I say 'past life' because I now no longer fit the demographic that saw me hired as some kind of poster boy for varying products and services; time was, if ever they were on the lookout for either 'slightly geeky' or simply…

    5th August 2016 Me! In 3D! Large As Life & Twice As Unnerving!

    So. As detailed in the previous shed entry 'Doppelgänger...?', when not writing novels and short stories (see many more examples in the shed -for pledgers only!), I spend my time writing and presenting cabaret shows under the moniker Benjamin Louche.

    And next week I present the FINAL performances of a one-man show all about my childhood, my writing and my journey into cabaret, entitled 'Being Louche…

    24th June 2016 Bananacide

    Hello again shed-dwellers,

    So, in the bio for the Mason Ball twitter profile, I stated that, despite being an adult, I had never eaten a banana. Yeah, I know.

    At some point during my Unbound campaign, it was suggested that, so ridiculous was this fact, when I reached 50% I should eat a banana and the whole momentous occasion be filmed.

    And lo, we did reach 50% and lo this has come to pass…

    23rd June 2016 Doppelgänger...?

    Hey there shed-dwellers,

    SO, a little word or two on the other side of my life, the yin to my yang, the Laurel to my Hardy, the meat to my potatoes, the... (and so on)

    When not writing I am a cabaret host, emcee, compère, (whichever term you feel comfortable with) by the name of Benjamin Louche.

    This all began when my then girlfriend now wife was a burlesque performer (Miss Rose Thorne…

    10th June 2016 Nearly Half Way!

    Hey shed-dwellers,

    At the time of writing, The Dutch Wives is sitting at 48%!

    Massive,  M A S S I V E  quantities of thanks for all who have pledged and a gentle, then not so gentle, reminder to TELL YOUR FRIENDS! SPREAD THE WORD!

    This book can only happen if we get to 100%!


    P.S. Do let me know if you'd lik to see more content in the 'shed', whether more short stories, articles…

    3rd May 2016 The March On Canada Square

    Hey there shed-dwellers.

    Just thought I'd drop you a line to 'gift' this short story and to let those of you who have yet to pledge know that those who have already supported The Dutch Wives have exclusive access to a growing number of short stories by me, so why not join 'em?

    This particular story seemed almost topical, what with the release of Ben Wheatley's Ballard adaptation High Rise. My…

    28th April 2016 That Time When I Was Made Of Chocolate

    And so, here it is, evidence of that time I dressed up as a bar of chocolate for money:

    It was for website content for Walkers Crisps' campaign to find a new flavour. There were many contenders put to the public vote: Builder's Breakfast, Fish & Chips, Cajun Squirrel, Onion Bhaji, Crispy Duck & Hoisin and Chilli & Chocolate. Myself and the chap lounging seductively on the pool table were, of…

    11th April 2016 Music By Which To Write #1

    I see much in online writer's groups and message boards about different author's methodologies when writing. Different superstitions and rituals. So and so writes longhand with a quill fashioned from a dodo feather pilfered from the natural history museum circa 1978, whatshername can only make her page-a-day target if facing true north wearing naught but a pith helmet and knitted swimwear, youknowwho…

    5th April 2016 Bleary Eyes & Celulloid

    Hello there shed frequenters,

    I'm afraid that vanity forces me to address my appearance in my Unbound pitch video; namely the fact that I look like I hadn't slept for a week, that I might very well be dead but no one had had the good manners to tell me.

    Well. When not writing, I perform in cabaret shows (but more of that in another post) and when not writing or appearing in cabaret shows, sometimes…

    31st March 2016 The Shed That Isn't

    It really is a strange feeling having a virtual shed. I mean, what do you put in it? Should I be shopping for a virtual lawnmower? Some nonexistent rusty bicycles? An imaginary Black & Decker workmate?

    I don't have a real shed. I live in London. And work in cabaret. I can barely afford to keep myself in gin and mascara, let alone stretch to a garden and a shed to put in it.

    My only experience…

    31st March 2016 First & Last...

    The first word of The Dutch Wives is "It" 

    The last word of The Dutch Wives is "walked"


    Am I giving too much away?


    30th March 2016 For the Early Adopters

    29th March 2016 "This is the way, step inside..."

    Hello there and welcome to my shed. Now there's a sentence I never thought I'd use...

    Here's where you can get updates on how the book's funding is coming along, together with some spiel, snippets and anecdotes, hoopla, hijinks and insights concerning my writing process, some more on how The Dutch Wives came to be, plus exclusive access -for pledgers only- to original works of mine (short stories…

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