Ellie Stone is a professed modern girl in 1960s’ New York City, playing by her own rules and breaking boundaries while searching for a killer.
“If you were a man, you’d make a good detective.”
Ellie Stone is sure that Sgt. McKeever meant that as a compliment, but that identity-a girl wanting to do a man’s job-has throttled her for too long. It’s 1960, and Ellie doesn’t want to blaze any trails for women; she just wants to be a reporter, one who doesn’t need to swat hands off her behind at every turn.
Adrift in her career, Ellie is back in New York City after receiving news that her estranged father, a renowned Dante scholar and distinguished professor, is near death after a savage bludgeoning in his home. The police suspect a routine burglary, but Ellie has her doubts. When a second attempt is made on her father’s life, in the form of an “accident” in the hospital’s ICU, Ellie’s suspicions are confirmed.
Then another professor is found dead, and Ellie’s investigation turns to her father’s university colleagues, their ambitions, jealousies, and secret lives. Ellie embarks on a thorny journey of discovery and reconciliation, as she pursues an investigation that offers her both a chance at redemption in her father’s eyes, and the risk of losing him forever.
Praise for Styx & Stone
“Styx & Stone is a knockout! Vivid period detail, a clever plot revolving around a stolen academic manuscript, and a memorable protagonist add up to one of the year’s best mystery debuts. Readers will want to see a lot more of Ellie Stone, a reporter who can hold her own with the boys—even when it messes with her heart—at the start of the ‘Swinging Sixties.’”
—Lynne Raimondo, author of Dante’s Wood
The prodigal daughter, journalist Eleonora (“Ellie”) Stone, rushes to her father’s New York City hospital bed after he’s savagely beaten in his apartment. Abraham Stone, Dante professor and scholar, is mostly beloved by his colleagues, but an underlying tension within the department makes a curious—and angry—Ellie investigate. Not only is her father near death, but also his most recent manuscript is missing from his torn-up study. Then, horrifyingly, another professor dies in a scenario meant to look like a suicide. While grappling with her own identity and grief, Ellie pieces together the clues she’s amassed from what’s been left in the study and from conversations with others. When she catches a whiff of anti-Semitism, the case is clarified for her, and DS Jimmo McKeever wisely listens.
VERDICT This is an engrossing debut in what promises to be a fascinatingly complex series set in the 1960s. With abundant academic flair and somber references to the Holocaust and World War II, Ziskin successfully pulls off a nuanced plot sure to appeal to both fans of academia and Mad Men.
This new series from author James W. Ziskin shows a lot of promise. Ellie isn’t some shrinking violet, and she has a quick deductive intelligence that allows her to ask the right, and sometimes discomfiting, questions as she continues her investigation. The details are important here. It’s interesting to watch her character dissect how the placement of a radio in an apartment is germane to an individual’s death, or how she determines the likelihood of someone plagiarizing a document.
Her investigation runs through the Italian Department of Columbia University, and her no-nonsense behavior, along with her normal human appetites, begins to rub some people in a very wrong way. Ziskin manages to explore the casual racism and sexism of the early 1960s, but thankfully doesn’t overdo the effect. His balancing act provides readers with a strong protagonist with equally strong detecting skills, and the ability to address cultural and political issues in new books going forward.
The milieu of New York City in 1960 is largely untouched here, but there’s room for that type of development and I think Ziskin is up to the task of producing a quality series based around Ellie Stone. This may be an author to watch for in the future.
—Mark Rose, bookgasm.com
It is the dawn of a new decade, the 1960s, in a small town in New York State. Our heroine is Ellie Stone, a reporter for a local newspaper. Only twenty-three, she already seems discontented with the path her life has taken. Ellie is anything but the stereotypic female of the era, with a determination to pursue a career of her own, a penchant for alcohol and a dubious string of meaningless romantic trysts. Her world is suddenly shaken by news that her estranged father is in hospital, having been the victim of an assault in his apartment in New York City.
Ellie rushes to the bedside of her comatose father and is soon consumed with finding his assailant. Upon news that one of her father’s colleagues has just been discovered dead in his apartment, she is intent on convincing diminutive police officer McKeever that there is a link between the two cases, and that the Italian department of Columbia University is the likely source of the aggressor. It is here that we enter the insulated world of academia, rife as it is with furtive rivalries and jealousies – the perfect backdrop for grudges and perhaps even murder. Ellie meets and questions an array of professors and graduate students who played a significant role in her father’s life, prominent professor and Dante scholar that he was.
Throughout the novel, we get glimpses of Ellie’s fascinating family dynamic, from the untimely death of her brother and mother, to her complex and difficult relationship with her father. She is ever trying to heal these wounds as well as understand their impact on her own psychological make-up and relationships. Ellie is a compelling, likeable heroine, whose character flaws only serve to make her more complex and interesting to the reader.
As the story unfolds, we see that the current intrigue may have its roots back in the infamous World War II prison camp of Auschwitz. A seemingly anti-Semitic act of vandalism at the grave site of Ellie’s brother only serves to deepen the mystery, which culminates in a surprise ending.
Author James Ziskin uses highly evocative and wonderfully descriptive prose throughout the novel. His words give colour and nuance to the varied scenes of a New York City at the cusp of the 1960s. It is gritty, vibrant, wonderfully alive, and seems to be in perpetual motion like our heroine. Subthemes of sexual freedom, anti-Semitism, and Dante scholarship are skillfully woven through the storyline. Despite the clever title of the book, my only complaint is a lack of 1960s terminology in the dialogue, as well a paucity of references to the music and pop culture of the era. However, I still very much RECOMMEND this novel. Readers will undoubtedly await his next Ellie Stone mystery with much anticipation.
—Christine O’Connor, http://www.iloveamysterynewsletter.com/CHRISTINE%20O’CONNOR.html
STYX & STONE succeeds largely because the author creates a likable heroine and cast of characters with clear and logical motivations and the reader never feels cheated or “had” by a too-cute twist… Ziskin has created an undoubted success.
—Ben Neal, http://www.reviewingtheevidence.com/review.html?id=9868
“In Ziskin’s version of the classic ‘noir’ novel, the scene of the crime is a trendy Manhattan high-rise rather than a dive in LA or ‘Frisco.’ What’s more, his murder victims are learned academics rather than crooks, so they cross the infernal river just once without first going up the creek. Most surprising for our expectations in the noir genre is that Ziskin’s protagonist is not a boozy, disheveled, and raunchy has-been, but a beautiful, chic young woman and raunchy wannabe.”
—John Freccero, professor of Italian literature, New York University
While inevitable comparisons to Mad Men will be made, Ziskin has created a labyrinth of plot twists and clues that intriguingly incorporate the author’s background in Italian and Romantic Literature. Ziskin perfectly captures the voice of a young woman who wears a masculine exterior that shields a very fragile feminine self. The author has created an extremely twisty tale of murder that at its core centers around a very vulnerable but brave heroine making her way through a man’s world.
—Cynthia Chow, Kings River Life Magazine
Near the beginning of Ziskin’s competent series starter set in 1960 New York City, reporter Ellie Stone is shaken to learn that her estranged father, a famed Dante scholar, is in critical condition after a brutal beating, with no suspect yet in sight. Moreover, a second attempt on his life, which takes place in the hospital, indicates that the culprit won’t stop until Professor Stone is dead. A determined Ellie throws herself into the case, only to discover a maze of possible motivations, ranging from anti-Semitism to professional rivalry. An attack on a second academic, Ruggero Ercolano, this time fatal, underlines the urgency of Ellie’s investigation. Ziskin’s sense of period isn’t always believable, but he makes the unjust social constraints and pervasive double standard then inflicted on women painfully clear. This solid debut mystery promises even better for future series entries.
“Styx & Stone by James W. Ziskin is a well-written, densely plotted murder mystery featuring the aspiring journalist daughter of an Ivy League university professor… This is a sturdy mystery, and it is always fun to watch an outsider with raring intent outthink plodding police procedure.”
Styx and Stone will appeal to Italian art and literature buffs.
Ellie Stone is a good, likable person and has character flaws that make her quite realistic. The plot contains twists and turns that might keep readers guessing until the end. Ziskin weaves in historical references to the Holocaust and World War II that add interest.
—Terry Ambrose, Examiner.com
Warren Public Library
An unusual little mystery novel which involves Dante, broken classical records, a professor who was hit on the head in his study, and a whole crowd of eccentric academics. …I thought that Ziskin did a very good job with the 1960 scene and with the academic background. Clever mystery, too.