Like a rolling stone
A Stone's Throw, latest in Ziskin Ellie Stone murder mysteries, finishes a winner

Like a rolling stone
Jeffrey Mannix - 07/05/2018

In celebration of a horse called Justify and a 52-year-old jockey who were only the 13th pair since 1919 to win all three jewels of the Triple Crown, “Murder Ink” this month will feature another crafty longshot, A Stone’s Throw by veteran author James W. Ziskin.

This isn’t the first we’ve seen of a Ziskin entry in the “Murder Ink” stables. I’ve reviewed most of Ziskin’s six other Ellie Stone mysteries over the years.

As with Robin Yocum who was extolled in June’s “Murder Ink,” Ziskin is a top midlist author who writes flawlessly plotted narratives with Kodachrome-vivid characters at a length that doesn’t elicit a gasp. I especially look forward to the next Ziskin mystery because of his love for language – we both have an unhealthy adoration for the perfect sentence – and Ziskin nails it time after time. And, more germane to the reader, he has created a most charming character in the small-town newspaper reporter Ellie Stone. Percipient, wily, single and attractive, she is dedicated to uncovering the truth. She likes her scotch and admirers, and is manipulative and terrific.

This is Ziskin’s sixth Ellie Stone story. It’s not his best – the fifth book in the series, 2017’s Cast the First Stone, won a prestigious Anthony Award and was nominated for a host of other crime fiction awards. This latest effort gets a little strained – but Ellie is her usual charming and sagacious nuisance. And even an overplayed plot by Ziskin is carried deftly by our winsome heroine and flawless wordsmithing.

Set in the early 1960s, the story starts when there’s a fire in one of the stables at the once glorious but now derelict racing stables at Tempesta Stud Farm. The stables are not far from the famed Saratoga racetrack north of Schenectady in upstate New York, and close to New Holland where Ellie is one of two reporters for the New Holland Republic. When the barn fire lights up the police scanner, Ellie is out there at five in the morning with her camera, Tri-X black & white film, and a dozen flashbulbs.

Poking through the steaming rubble after the fire department got there, Ellie, accompanied by a dyspeptic Saratoga County sheriff deputy, picks at a length of charred fabric.

“It looked like silk. Black and orange diamonds on white, and soaking wet. … I tugged at the cloth, which was caught under what was left of a long wooden beam … I pulled harder on the silk, and the blackened beam lifted and tumbled off to one side. I loosed a scream and dropped the fabric.”

Considered just another old barn fire set by kids playing with matches, and written off by the sheriffs of two counties overlapping the farm, Ellie discovers and solves the murders of a small man and a redheaded woman all but unrecognizable as victims. Ziskin is the master of suspense, clean and unsuspected surprises pop up throughout his narratives. What one might have thought, coming as close as 10 pages from the ending, will likely make a fool out of any schooled, well-read logic.

Don’t miss A Stone’s Throw, an original paperback from Amherst, N.Y.-based Seventh Street Books, which will be released today, June 5. With Maria’s 15 percent discount for “Murder Ink” books, you can’t have lunch downtown for what this book will cost you. You’ll forget lunch before you get home; you won’t forget Ellie Stone.

 

Top Shelf

Talking rocks, battle royale and a hillbilly PhD
Talking rocks, battle royale and a hillbilly PhD
By Chris Aaland
09/19/2019

I’ve been glued to my television the past two nights as Ken Burns’ “Country Music” miniseries airs on PBS.

Blues, brews and a Native metal band or two
Blues, brews and a Native metal band or two
By Chris Aaland
09/12/2019

Festival season in Southwest Colorado all but comes to a close this weekend when the 26th annual Telluride Blues & Brews rolls out the barrels in Town Park.

Donkey doo, Futurebirds and a skankin' good time
Donkey doo, Futurebirds and a skankin' good time
By Chris Aaland
09/05/2019

After suffering through a painful summer of Rockies baseball, Centennial State sports fans can finally embrace hope when their beloved Broncos take the field at 8:30 p.m.

Challenging the throne, throwing horns & radio gaga
Challenging the throne, throwing horns & radio gaga
By Chris Aaland
08/29/2019

The 24th annual Four Corners Folk Festival takes place Friday through Sunday on Reservoir Hill in Pagosa Springs.

Read All in Top Shelf

Day in the Life

Fading Light
Fading Light
By Stephen Eginoire
09/19/2019

With another summer season officially in the bag, the first day of autumn marks the Earth’s transition from equinox to solstice.

Warm fuzzies
Warm fuzzies
By Stephen Eginoire
09/12/2019

What could be more uplifting than a herd of gentle-souled, multi-colored alpacas?

High Times
High Times
By by Stephen Eginoire
09/05/2019

The whimsical days of summer are nearing an end, but early September is arguably one of the best times of the year to romp through the hills (sans ski boots).

The Ripe Stuff
The Ripe Stuff
08/29/2019

Harvest season is all about fresh wild-foraged right here in the Animas food, family and friends.

Read All in Day on the Life