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STONE COLD DEAD
by James W. Ziskin
Seventh Street Books, May 2015
317 pages
$15.95
ISBN: 1633880486


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

For young newspaper reporter Ellie Stone, her success in solving the murder of Jordan Shaw, the daughter of a local judge, has been a mixed blessing. She's passionate about finding justice, and increasingly finding that she's better at and gets more enjoyment from solving crimes than writing fluffy human interest stories for the newspaper. On the downside, the local community in New Holland, New York sees her as a savior - someone you can turn to when police efforts hit a dead end. So when Ellie is trying to warm herself up on New Year's Eve 1960 with some booze and a gentleman companion, there is a knock on the door from the desperate mother of 15-year old Darlene Hicks, who went missing just days earlier. The local police are convinced that she has run off with a boy - an admittedly plausible theory - and are content to await her return, but Ellie cannot turn Darlene's mother away and agrees to look into the case.

Once the thrill of being back in the saddle of an investigation wears off, Ellie finds that she might be in over her head with this case. Nearly everyone involved with the case is in information lockdown mode and refusing to tell her anything on principle - when they are not refusing based upon her age or gender. Ellie's nemesis at the paper, George Walsh, is literally trying to pass off her work as his own and the missing girl's juvenile delinquent boyfriend steals her car not once, but twice. Ellie realizes that Darlene may have been romantically involved with a teacher, but only after she herself has slept with him. Ellie finds herself not only running against time, social norms, and the shoddy newspaper management as she tries to save a young girl and her livelihood; but also with the often "no-win" ethical and moral quandaries that the justice system offers.

STONE COLD DEAD in the third Ellie Stone mystery in as many years, and Ziskin's continued growth as a writer, and comfort level with Ellie, is evident. When the series started with 2013's STYX & STONE, potential was there, but there was a sense that the book was trying too hard to be an overly stylized Mad Men-inspired series that relied too heavily on the protagonist's witty retorts and casual lifestyle. While Ellie has remained a trailblazer, she is portrayed in a more measured and realistic way, to the series' benefit. Whereas last year's NO STONE UNTURNED demonstrated a great leap for the series, the latest installment represents a more modest step forward. While the characters and settings becomes more fully developed in this installment and the mystery is plenty compelling, there is a sense throughout that the novel exists more because the last volume was successful enough to warrant a follow-up than a burning need to tell this story.

All the same, STONE COLD DEAD is a worthy addition to the Ellie Stone series and is an excellent entry point for the series for anyone who likes a smart mystery that's heavy on suspense and personality, but light on unnecessary subplots. Ziskin's writing and character development has improved over the course of the series and one can only hope the upward trajectory continues.

Ben Neal is a librarian who likes to fancy himself an amateur writer, humorist, detective, and coffee connoisseur in his spare time. He can be reached at beneneal@indiana.edu.

Reviewed by Ben Neal, May 2015

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)


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