MysteryPeople Review: CAST THE FIRST STONE by James W. Ziskin

  • Review by MysteryPeople Contributor and Mystery Maven Meike Alana

9781633882812Cast the First Stone is the latest installment in James Ziskin’s Ellie Stone mystery series featuring newspaper reporter Ellie Stone.  Ziskin joins us here at the store to speak and sign his new installment in the series on August 26th, when he’ll be appearing with another favorite from Seventh Street Books, Mark Pryor. 

Ellie’s bosses may sometimes assign her the fluff pieces, but as Ziskin’s latest begins, Ellie lands an assignment sure to be interesting throughout. For once the paper’s publisher has a meaty story for her to cover—the New Holland Republic is going to send her to Los Angeles to profile local hero Tony Eberle; the actor has just landed his first starring movie role in the latest beach-themed Hollywood blockbuster.  But when Ellie arrives on the studio set to interview her subject, he doesn’t show up for filming and is promptly fired from the production.   

Ellie refuses to return to New Holland without a story, so she sets off to find the actor and help salvage his career.  But things become complicated when the movie’s producer is found murdered and Tony may have been the last one to see him alive. As Ellie searches for the actor and delves deeper into the circumstances surrounding the producer’s life and death, she confronts the seedier side of Tinseltown-aspiring actors who will do anything to land that big role, and the power players who won’t hesitate to exploit them.  Along the way she uncovers secrets with potentially devastating consequences for more than one big name in the Hollywood movie machine—secrets that someone would go to any length to keep hidden. 

Ellie is a fantastic character (perhaps my personal favorite in the genre) and Ziskin has perfectly paced the revelation of her dichotomy throughout the series.  On one hand she’s young and inexperienced, and her parents’ financial security has sheltered her from some of the world’s starker realities.  But she’s intensely brave and not afraid to blaze forth and face the world head on; she doesn’t shy away from danger or discomfort, and has continued to mature and evolve.  

In each novel Ellie has observed social and political issues that have challenged her innate beliefs and prejudices.  In Cast The First Stone she is confronted with homosexuality and the taboos still associated with that in Hollywood of the 1960’s—gay individuals, a strong presence in Hollywood, remained largely closeted, subject to beatings and even imprisonment were they to be open about their sexuality.  Ellie herself is fairly progressive for that era in terms of her own sexuality, and she comes to examine her beliefs and attitudes about the sexual identity of others.  In its pitch perfect examination of sexual identity issues of the 1960’s, Cast The First Stone is a timely read given the conversations surrounding LGBTQ  issues of today.  

Cast The First Stone is the fifth installment in James Ziskin’s Edgar-award nominated series which includes Styx and Stone, No Stone Unturned, Stone Cold Dead and Heart of Stone.  A linguist by training, Ziskin is the former director of New York University’s Casa Italiana Zerilli-Marimbo, where he collaborated with an impressive catalogue of writers, journalists and academics on cultural and educational events.

You can find copies of Cast The First Stone on our shelves and via

James W. Ziskin joins us on Saturday, August 26th, at 6 PM, to speak and sign his new Ellie Stone mystery. He’ll be joined by fellow Seventh Street author Mark Pryor, with his latest Hugo Marston novel, The Sorbonne Affair. 

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