James W. Ziskin’s “Styx and Stone” is a classic 1960’s noir novel set in New York at Columbia University about Ellie Stone, a professed modern girl, who plays by her own rules and breaks boundaries while searching for a killer among the renowned scholars in Columbia University's Italian Department.
Ellie is not your typical protagonist. Instead, she’s a modern woman who works for a living as a reporter in a man’s world. When Ellie learns that her estranged father has been savagely bludgeoned in his own home, she goes to be with him and discovers that the police suspect a routine burglary. Ellie starts her own investigation into why someone would want to hurt her father because she believes the facts don’t match the theory.
When another professor is found dead in his bathtub Ellie becomes convinced the two incidents are connected. Her investigation uncovers many dirty secrets among the professors and staff at the university, which lead Ellie down several paths as she tries to discover the true identity of the person responsible for the attack on her father and the death of the other professor.
Ellie Stone is a good, likable person and has character flaws that make her quite realistic. The plot contains twists and turns that might keep readers guessing until the end. Ziskin weaves in historical references to the Holocaust and World War II that add interest. Yet while Ziskin’s academic background provides a solid base for this story, it also leads to what could be a weakness for some readers. There is too much minutia on Dante, Italian literature, and Italian poetry throughout the book for many readers of mysteries. However, readers who love these subjects will likely find these details as a strength, not a weakness.
Terry Ambrose (terryambrose.com) writes mysteries and thrillers. His latest funny Hawaiian mystery, “Kauai Temptations,” was called “More delicious than a Coconut Mocha Frap” by New York Times Bestselling author Jenn McKinlay (www.jennmckinlay.com).