Who doesn’t love a good mystery, especially when horse racing is involved? Well, fans of both (they exist) are in for a treat as A Stone’s Throw, the latest book in the Ellie Stone murder mystery series, came out June 5, and it’s set right here in Saratoga Springs. Except, don’t expect the bustling, sleek Saratoga of today that you know and love; A Stone’s Throw is set during the thrill of the summer track meet in 1962, before Saratoga went through a massive revitalization push in the mid-1960s and 70s.
The author, James Ziskin, remembers the slightly rundown Saratoga from those days. “What I tried to concentrate on was the excitement, and there is definitely, even in the early 60s, more glamour [in Saratoga] once August rolls around.” Set in the fictional town of New Holland, NY (a thinly veiled Amsterdam, where Ziskin grew up), the mystery series follows a twenty-something girl named Ellie Stone working for a small town newspaper solving murder mysteries in her hometown and other locations in Upstate New York. The series has already won prestigious prizes in the crime writing/mystery genre including an Anthony Award for Best Paperback Original and a Macavity Award for Best Historical Novel, and both for the fourth book in the series, Heart of Stone (Ziskin’s fifth Ellie Stone mystery is also up for the same two awards this September).
This is the sixth book in the series and the first set in Saratoga where Ziskin spent many of his summers growing up. Why Saratoga, especially considering Amsterdam—ahem—I mean New Holland is already so close? “Well, since my main character lives in this small town of New Holland, I can only set so many murders in that location before it becomes unbelievable,” says Ziskin (his main character has also solved mysteries in the Adirondacks, New York City and Los Angeles).
But Ziskin also wanted to write about the unique culture and blend of people that flock to Saratoga every summer. A Stone’s Throw revolves around the track and opens with an abandoned stud farm that has burned down in the night, leaving in its charred rubble the bodies of two victims. Stone documents the incident for her newspaper but discovers inside the ruins the remains of racing silks wrapped around the neck of one of the victims. I don’t want to reveal any more except to say sorry, Jockeys, looks like you’re on the suspect list.
Ziskin is on tour right now promoting the book and was at Northshire Bookstore on Tuesday, August 7 for a signing. Despite being on tour, he’s already hard at work planning his next Ellie Stone mystery. The way Ziskin describes his main character, it’s almost like he’s talking about a real person. “I just love the character so much. She’s just so smart and so witty and so much fun. Ultimately, I’m just having too much fun, and I’m going to continue to do it.”
A Stone’s Throw is now available in stores and online. Pick up a copy and, who knows, bring it to the track with you. On second thought, you might not get much reading done there.