A Stone’s Throw

Written by James W. Ziskin
Review by Larry Zuckerman

Ellie Stone, the heroine of this engaging, clever mystery, is a reporter for an upstate New York newspaper. It’s August 1962, the height of the racing season in nearby Saratoga Springs, when Ellie happens on a fire at an abandoned stud farm. She finds remains of two bodies in the ashes, a man and a woman, and a bit of racing silk, which suggests the male victim was a jockey. His head has a bullet hole.

What a scoop for Ellie, who, no matter how many successes she has, must continually prove herself as a woman in a profession dominated by men. So when the police draw hasty conclusions about the crime and brush off contrary evidence she unearths, she pursues the case. Ellie crosses paths with pimps, fixers, racetrack swells, criminals of unspecified profession, and ex-cons, all of which put a target on her back.

But the most interesting part of A Stone’s Throw isn’t the mystery, tense, plausible, and surprising as it is, or the wit and courage that make its protagonist a winning literary companion. It’s how Ellie maneuvers around the sobriquet of “girl reporter” and the harassment that comes with it, subtle or overt, yet never-ending either way. Also, as a Jew, Ellie faces different shades of anti-Semitism, whether from the underworld types or the racing blue-bloods, and though that prejudice is less predictable than the sexism, it’s seldom far away.

I might have wished for more historical grounding than the occasional song title or headline, devices that feel informational. But I think Ziskin’s portrayal of the social issues lurking on the mainstream horizon of that time more than make up for this fault, and you’d have to look hard to find a better mystery.