Monday, June 26, 2017

Introducing Ellie Stone

Set in 1960, Styx & Stone introduces Ellie Stone, a reporter for a small newspaper in upstate New York and the daughter of a renowned Dante scholar, Professor Abraham Stone. The elder Stone, a distinguished professor, has been found unconscious in his New York City apartment after having been beaten about the head. It may be a burglary gone bad, but then again, it may not be.

Ellie and her widowed father have long been estranged, but she races home to New York City and to the family apartment where she grew up. Professor Stone remains hospitalized, unconscious and in critical condition, obviously unable to shed any light on what happened the night he was assaulted. Not content simply to sit by his bedside, Ellie begins her own investigation into the attack.

The investigation leads her to the Italian department at the University where her father taught. Like many another academic department, this one is a sea of intrigue, with any number of matters large and small dividing its members. When another member of the department dies in an apparent accident shortly after the attack on her father, Ellie is certain that something sinister is going on above and beyond a simple burglary gone bad and a subsequent "accident." 

Ellie is extremely tenacious and joins ranks with the detective investigating the assault on her father, a sergeant named McKeever. She's determined to unravel the mystery and along the way, McKeever pays her what he believes to be the ultimate compliment for that day and age, when he observes that, "If you were a man, you'd make a good detective." 

Ellie thinks of herself as a "modern woman," who enjoys her whiskey and her men, and one of the strengths of the book is that the author has so deftly placed Ellie in her own time. Often in a book like this, the tendency of a good many authors is to simply transplant a woman of the Twenty-First Century back into the middle of the Twentieth, giving her values and attitudes that simply don't ring true for the time and place. In consequence the character often seems ultimately unbelievable.

Not so here. Ellie is a strong, independent woman with a mind of her own. But she is, clearly, a woman of the early 1960s. Ziskin, a linguist by training, has clearly done his homework, and the characters and the sense of place ring very true. Ellie is a very attractive protagonist and Ziskin is particularly good at capturing the jealousies, conflicting ambitions, and squabbles large and small that exist within Professor Stone's department, All in all, this is a very promising start to the Ellie Stone series.

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