Turn to Stone
An Ellie Stone Mystery Book 7
James W. Ziskin
Seventh Street Books, January 2020
From the publisher—
Florence, Italy, August 1963. In Italy to accept a posthumous award for her late father’s academic work, “girl reporter” Ellie Stone is invited to spend a weekend outside Florence with some of the scholars attending the symposium. A suspected rubella outbreak leaves the ten friends quarantined in the bucolic setting with little to do but tell stories to entertain themselves. Deciding to make the best of their confinement, the men and women spin tales, gorge themselves on fine Tuscan food and wine, and enjoy the delicious fruit of transient love. But the summer bacchanalia takes a menacing turn when the man who organized the symposium is fished out of the Arno. “Morto.” As long-buried secrets rise to the surface, Ellie must figure out if one or more of her newfound friends is capable of murder.
Ellie Stone is a young reporter for a small, local paper, not a common employment in the early 1960’s for a woman but certainly not unheard of in a time when the younger generation was beginning to flex its muscle and reaching for more societal freedoms. She’s been doing this job for several years now, long enough to have established herself as an investigative photojournalist with some credibility although some no doubt see her as just a nosy female.
Right now, though, Ellie isn’t in search of a newsworthy story back home in upstate New York. Her late father, a well-regarded academic, is being given a posthumous award in Florence, Italy, at a conference and she’s there to receive it. Despite her expectations, Ellie finds herself enjoying some of her father’s colleagues but she certainly wasn’t expecting to be quarantined with them during a possible rubella outbreak (this story takes place about 5 or 6 years before a vaccine was developed for this disease that is especially dangerous for pregnant women). Still, what could go wrong with spending a few days in the Italian countryside?
Well, it seems that plenty can go wrong and, soon enough, this handful of academics and Ellie, along with the villa’s owner and his wife, are experiencing their own sort of locked room mystery because the man who arranged the symposium and the retreat was found dead in the river before anything gets started. Was it murder, suicide or just an accident? The police are on it but, of course, the intrepid reporter can’t not do her own investigating. Before long, Ellie turns up connections to Fascist Italy and the deaths of thousands of Jews but she needs to winnow through the past to find the present-day truth. While that’s going on, the group whiles away the hours with their own version of the Decameron, a 14th-century collection of tales told by Florentines to pass the time during a plague.
Mr. Ziskin’s background in Italian studies shines through in what I can only call a love letter to a beautiful country and language; Italy as a setting is itself an important character in the tale both in its history and its culture. Along with that, the author offers an intriguing puzzle set in two periods of history and the result is, once again, a charming, intelligent crime novel.
Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, January 2020.
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“TURN TO STONE is a thoughtful mystery that questions
whether forgiveness is always possible” — Foreword Reviews
About the Author
James Ziskin is the author of Turn to Stone (Jan 21, 2020; Seventh Street Books), the latest in the Anthony® and Macavity Award-winning Ellie Stone Mysteries. His books have also been finalists for the Edgar®, Barry, and Lefty awards.
A linguist by training, Ziskin studied Romance languages and literature at the University of Pennsylvania. After completing his graduate degree, he worked in New York as a photo-news producer and writer, and then as Director of NYU’s Casa Italiana. He spent fifteen years in the Hollywood postproduction industry, running large international operations in the subtitling/localization and visual effects fields.
His international experience includes two years working and studying in France, extensive time in Italy, and more than three years in India. He speaks Italian and French, and currently lives in Boston.
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“Original and compelling—and a brilliant twist on the beloved locked
room mystery. The incredibly talented James Ziskin has combined the
lure of 1963 Florence, a love of Italian literature, and an homage to the
classics. But Ziskin doesn’t stop there—TURN TO STONE is a touching and
important exploration of history, with a series of life-changing consequences
that will keep you riveted to the page. James Ziskin is a knockout storyteller.”
—Hank Phillippi Ryan, Nationally best-selling author of The Murder List
To enter the drawing for a print copy of Turn to Stone,
leave a comment below. The winning name will be drawn
on Friday evening, January 24th. Open to residents of the US.