Tuesday, June 12, 2018

A Stone's Throw by James Ziskin

First Sentence:  The flames leapt into the last of the night's darkness, casting their dancing orange light against the weathered planks of the nearby outbuildings.
Newspaper reporter Ellie Stone is at the derelict Shaw Stables stud farm as the horse barn burns to the ground  Walking the site later, Elly uncovers two bodies burnt nearly beyond recognition except for a bit of racing colors on the male, and a trace of red hair, an earring, and a bit of fur on the female.  It wasn't the fire which killed them.  On the hunt for the story, it's up to Ellie to find out who the victims were, and who killed them.
Fire always captures one's attention.  A fire without an obvious cause in an abandoned structure raises the level of curiosity.  A fire with two bodies not killed by the fire means a mystery.
The story being set in 1963 provides wonderful opportunities for time-relevant references—"May I call you later for the results?" I asked.  "He turned and squinted up at me, still on his hands and knees in the muck.  "No later than seven.  I watch Perry Mason at seven thirty."  

There something rather fun about a book set in an age before the internet, and before cell phones, when research meant digging through physical files, going place-to-place to talk with people, and making a lot of phone calls.  It's nice that Ziskin doesn't ignore the details, even to the reference that—"As Saratoga hadn't yet entered the world of direct distance dialing, I had to call the operator to connect me to my parties."
One thing that was very true then, and is still sadly true now, was the amount of bigotry and, in particular, anti-Semitism which prevailed.  While Ziskin doesn't hammer the point, there are certainly enough references to make one aware of how prevalent it was and to make one uncomfortable, as it should. 
What one eats can say a lot about a person.  For fine cuisine, one might not want to look to Ellie—"For an hors d'oeuvre, I scrounged some gin-soaked olives that I kept in the icebox, washed them down with a glass of whiskey—not a combination made in heaven—then dined on deviled ham straight from the can.  I peeled and quartered an apple for dessert."  However, if one likes characters who are smart, determined, and capable, Ellie fits the bill.  oHowHowe
Ziskin has provided Ellie with a strong supporting cast from her friend Fadge, Zeke and Bill who sometimes work for Fadge, sheriff Frank Olney, the indefatigable Norma Geary who does considerable research, Ellie's boss, Charlie, and others.  They provide an excellent sense of realism as no one works, or lives, in a vacuum. 
Those who enjoy horses and horseracing will particularly enjoy this book.  The description of the Traver's Stakes race was very well done, conveying the excitement of that actual event and the winning jockey Bill ("Willie," although he didn't care for the nickname) Shoemaker.  One may as well appreciate the reference to Shylock.
 "A Stone's Throw" is a well-done book with an excellent twist, a startling reveal, and an ending horse-lovers will appreciate.

A STONE'S THROW (Journ-Ellie Stone-Upstate NY- 1963) – G+
      Ziskin, James W. – 4th in series
      Seventh Street Books – May 2018

1 comment:

  1. I liked that reference to Perry Mason. It sets the book effectively without overload, if that makes any sense. I also like journalism as a context for investigating a story. It's a credible reason for looking into a case. Glad you enjoyed this.