Sunday, 9 November 2014

Dress Down Sunday: Styx and Stone by James W Ziskin

published 2013



LOOKING AT WHAT GOES ON UNDER THE CLOTHES







I fumbled for my keys in front of my father’s door and dropped them onto the thick brush doormat. As I bent down to pick them up, the clicking of a latch startled me.

‘Oh, Ellie, it’s you.”

“Hello, Mrs Farber,” I said, jingling the keys in my hands. “You’re up late tonight.”

“I can’t sleep these days,” she said, letting the door open more fully.

“Would you like to talk about it?” I asked.

Angela Farber led me to her parlor, a warm, womb-like cloister with salmon-coloured walls and some white Chinese silk rugs. Chiffon drapes hung in front of drawn curtains, lending a soft, shrouded intimacy to the room. A mezza-coda Steinway anchored the far wall, some Schumann romances on the music stand.

She was wearing a black-and-gold kimono that reached the floor. She’d drawn her black hair back in a simple braid.



observations: My good blogging friend Col reviewed this book at his Criminal Library, and when I expressed an interest he very kindly passed it on to me. It’s an unusual book: it has things in common with many other crime books, but the overall combination struck me as refreshing and close to unique. It is written by a man, has a young woman giving the first-person narrative, and is set in 1960. The young woman, a newspaper reporter, has come to New York to investigate a brutal attack on her father, an academic. As she tries to find out what is going on in the Italian department of the university, she meets up with people from her past, friends, enemies and handsome young men. It’s quite a winding plot, reaching back into the Second World War, and also involving Dante and classical music, and I guessed half of it, but got one aspect completely wrong so will give Ziskin points for the surprise.

I thought he did well in taking a female persona – it wasn’t jarring at all from that point of view, though she didn’t seem particularly 1960-ish: you could transfer her to 2014 without much difficulty. But she was a good heroine and it was an interesting take on an academic mystery. I’d be happy to read another book about Ellie Stone, and indeed this is the start of a series.

The character above, Angela, comes to the door in a completely different robe elsewhere in the book – a red silk peignoir – and Ms Stone is a bit of a pest at going round to people’s apartments and catching them not properly dressed, but perhaps that’s what you have to do to solve a crime.

This lovely picture is of Ava Willing Astor.

Other recent dressing gowns on the blog include the robe in Agatha Christie’s Sparkling Cyanide, and the lucky robe in Michael Chabon's Wonder Boys. There are plenty of other dressing-gowns, robes, negligees, kimonos and peignoirs all over the place – click on labels below.

Thanks again to Col for the book.

8 comments:

  1. Moira - I remember reading Col's post on this one. As you know, I do like academic mysteries, so this one did interest me. And it's good to hear that Ziskin's portrayal of Ellie is believable, even if she isn't quite as bound by her era as a lot of people are. Sounds like a very solid read.

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    1. 'A very good solid read' is the perfect description Margot - it's a pity we all have such large piles of such books, I hesitate to tell people they should start on a new series....

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  2. Thanks for the mention, I'm glad you enjoyed it. I ought to read the second soon - at least before the third appears! I didn't think you could tell it was a man writing about a woman, TBH.

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    1. These series run away from us don't they? I'd certainly read another one, when I find time...

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  3. Moira, I like the sound of this book. I''ll keep an open mind on it as well as an eye out for a copy. While I read mysteries, I often forget to read sub-genres like academic mysteries.

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    1. I liked the combination of a PI story, an academic mystery, and a female protagonist. Something for everyone!

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  4. Sounds interesting. I am probably about in the same place I was when Col read it. Too much else to read right now. But... I like reading about the 1960's so maybe sometime. And if it shows up at the book sale, then for sure. That is always a sign that I should read it.

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    1. Leave it to fate Tracy. Read it as and when it turns up...

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