Review: Styx & Stone

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Book Title: Styx & Stone
Author: James W. Ziskin
Series: Ellie Stone Mystery #1
Genres: Mystery, Historical Fiction-1960’s, Amateur Sleuth

Date Read: 06/23/16
Pub Date: 10/15/13


“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 turns up 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.

The words that come to mind to describe James W. Siskin’s debut Ellie Stone novel are intelligent, classy, and well-crafted, among many others. I was completely taken aback by how much I loved not only this book, but Ellie Stone’s character. Here we have a young woman in her early twenties trying to make it in the world of journalism, which is male dominated as this is the 1960’s. Think Mad Men with a little Lois Lane thrown in. This gal is sassy, can hold her liquor, and out thinks any man in the police department by a mile.  This story gave me an Alfred Hitchcock vibe in a sense, as all the clues are laid out from the beginning and if you are clever enough you could put them together to solve the crimes yourself. Little side note- I grew up an only child and was unusually and unashamedly close to my parents. We frequently (read almost daily) had movie nights back in the stone age where you perused Blockbuster (RIP) to pick out your choice of entertainment and brought it back home (which IMO was as enjoyable as the movie itself). When it was Chelsea’s turn to choose, my parents could always anticipate it would be an Alfred Hitchcock film (or preferably another mystery of sorts in black and white). Our house was a rotation of Turner Classic Movies and I wouldn’t change a thing. So you can see why this novel appealed to me on many levels.

” With nothing but a pencil and his fantasy, he had scratched onto paper fearsome and unholy beasts. The lines of each drawing were like scars rasped across the page; wounds that had healed on paper. His art filled me with a silent awe.”

As you can see, this is just one example of the author’s glorious writing. I think the beauty of it was the level of class his storytelling has without feeling “old fashioned”. The author is an intellectual; as a professor and master of many of the studies discussed in this book he did a fantastic job of explaining on a layman’s level some of history’s most complicated philosophical studies and some of the history that was going on in the time period of this book. I don’t want to give to much away, but I will say that this story started out with a fairly light feeling; it isn’t dark and disturbing as a psychological thriller would be, but by the end it had touched on some really heavy subjects that made me want to go back in history and do some researching of my own.

Ellie was an altogether lovable character for me. She’s prickly, outspoken, brilliant, and can hold her liquor as well as any man. I’ve always been intrigued by novels set in a time that was prior or during the trailblazing of women in the workplace. Her family situation was heartbreaking, and I really felt for her as she experienced staying by her father’s side in the hospital even though they had been estranged for years. I’m really excited to see where the author takes her character next, as we didn’t get to see a lot of Ellie in her work place due to the setting up of her character and introduction of the series. While it took me a bit to get into the book at first, mainly due to a large number of characters being introduced, i found the pages flipping much quicker as I nailed down who was who. There were plenty of unexpected twists near the end that I didn’t see coming, which was enjoyable and made me very excited to continue the series. I’m hoping this series will jump on more people’s radar, especially those who love a good mystery from a different decade.

  • I received my copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. I was initially asked to read the fourth book in the series, which has just been published this month, but the publisher agreed to send me all the book sin the series to catch up! major win for Seventh Street Books!


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