STONE COLD DEAD: In this third Ellie Stone mystery, the ‘girl reporter’ digs deeply into a dark case – #mystery #bookreview

 

Stone Cold Dead

An Ellie Stone Mystery

James W. Ziskin 

Seventh Street Books – paperback, Kindle

 

Ellie Stone is a skilled investigator at a time when women are still expected to mainly stay home and take care of their families. The year is 1961, and local citizens call Ellie as “that girl reporter.”She works for a small newspaper in a mill town in Upstate New York.

When someone is murdered or disappears, Ellie often is sought out by relatives of the dead or missing, especially when they think the local police may not be giving their loved one’s case enough attention.

Indeed, in the first two novels of the Ellie Stone series, the “girl reporter” has been gaining a reputation as a good investigative reporter and crime reporter, as well as amateur detective. That story line continues in Stone Cold Dead, James W. Ziskin’s well-written third Ellie Stone mystery.

Despite her local fame, however, Ellie remains a clear victim of gender discrimination in the news room. Her editors keep trying to assign her to stories involving bake sales, society happenings, Scout meetings, weddings and other “women’s news” events. And Ellie keeps pushing back against the long-traditional male dominance of “hard news” reporting. Sometimes she resists to the point that her job is put in jeopardy.

Of course, job attitudes hardly matter at all when you have asked one too many questions and suddenly talked your way into a life-threating situation. Ellie is good at this. Her curiosity, her probing and her desire to keep showing she can compete with the guys sometimes gets her too far out in front of safety and common sense.

James W. Ziskin is an excellent storyteller who offers up more detail and dialogue than many other mystery writers provide. He also lets his “I” character have more time for introspection and internal debate than is common in investigator stories. This lets us see more deeply into process of how Ellie solves a case.

Ziskin also writes convincingly about what life was like in the newsroom of a 1960s newspaper and out on the small-town streets. I worked as a young reporter for several small-town newspapers in the mid-1960s. And there was a very clear gender divide. Women covered “women’s news,” while guys got to cover the “cop shop” and sheriff’s department, prominent murder trials, fatal car wrecks, plane crashes, shootings, fires, and other “big”news events.

Stone Cold Dead spans 313 pages in paperback. A 15-year-old girl slips out of her junior-high school bus while it is stopped and disappears. Clues left behind point to the likelihood she has run away to be with a young lover. But as Ellie keeps questioning people and piecing together a trail, she realizes that several darker outcomes are becoming possible. And her own life is in danger, too.

Si Dunn

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

No Stone Unturned and Styx & Stone – An entertaining, engrossing mystery series – #bookreview

No Stone_cover

No Stone Unturned

An Ellie Stone Mystery

James W. Ziskin

(Seventh Street Books – paperback, Kindle)

***

 Styx & Stone

An Ellie Stone Mystery

James W. Ziskin

(Seventh Street Books – paperback, Kindle)

***

 Looking for a new mystery series and investigator to follow? Check out these two engrossing, entertaining novels from James W. Ziskin and Seventh Street Books.

Set in 1960, Styx & Stone, the series debut, and the recently published No Stone Unturned focus on Ellie Stone, a young reporter and photographer working for a small-town newspaper in Upstate New York. She’s struggling to hang onto her first professional job after graduating from the prestigious Columbia Journalism School.

It is a time well before women’s liberation, so Ellie is fighting both to stay afloat and advance  in a career that is still “a man’s world.” Yet, despite the nerve-wracking challenges and the men who fall over themselves as they try to get her into bed, she is glad to have work that doesn’t simply involve “shorthand and fetching coffee.”

Still, Ellie is tired of writing filler copy. She wants to get her hands on some real stories for a change. But she is competing in a male-dominated business and in a male-dominated town where everyone essentially knows everyone else. Thus, everything she does or says is scrutinized and subject to criticism by someone. And she sometimes has a tough time figuring out who really wants to help her and who is just trying to score enough points to make out with her.

Intrepidly, she pushes ahead. And she has a trait born of bravado and curiosity, as well as desperation to keep her job. She is not afraid to confront people and ask questions that others, including the police, have not thought of–or, more dangerously, have not wished to ask.

In Styx & Stone, Ellie leaves Upstate New York long enough to go back home to New York City after her estranged father, a famous Dante scholar and professor, is savagely beaten. The police think he was attacked by burglars, but Ellie is convinced it was a murder attempt and starts asking questions. Soon, another professor is killed, and a second attempt is made on Ellie’s father’s life. Later, he dies of his injuries.

Ellie is so thorough, demanding and even brazen in her probings that, at one point, Detective-Sergeant Jimmo McKeever of the NYPD, complains:  “Are you planning to solve every crime in New York during your stay?” Yet later, while helping her solve the murders,  he concedes a bit awkwardly: “If you were a man, you’d make a good detective.”

Meanwhile, in No Stone Unturned, Ellie is back in Upstate New York, at her newspaper job in the community of New Holland. She is wanting to prove to her boss and her fellow employes that she is a good journalist.

She intends to write  the main, front-page story about a newly discovered murder. But to beat the newspaper’s veteran (and male) crime reporter to the task, she must also solve the murder–quickly.

That means taking dangerous risks and hurriedly confronting powerful people in the community with sharp questions that create more enemies than friends. Along the way, she also must defend herself from being fired from her job. And she must find the inner courage to stick with her fledgling–though currently floundering–newspaper career.

James W. Ziskin’s Ellie Stone is an engaging, intelligent and ambitious young woman who knows both how to fight crime and how to fight her way through many of the historical, social and economic barriers that again restricted American women’s freedoms after World War II.

Si Dunn