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New mysteries are entertaining summer reads

Stone Cold Dead, James Ziskin’s third Ellie Stone mystery, is every bit as good as his first two books, which were excellent.

Ziskin is a natural storyteller and a very accomplished writer. Also reviewed in this column, Styx & Stone and No Stone Unturned were surprising finds, and it would be criminal not to call your attention to another outstanding criminal hunt by the young, charming, eccentric upstate New York newspaper reporter Ellie Stone.

There’s no question that Ziskin can write well and tell a good story lucidly with constant tension. But it’s the character of Ellie Stone that keeps Ziskin himself out of the narrative and keeps the plot strung tight and navigable.

Ellie is smart, Ellie is resourceful and, in some ways, Ellie is older than her 20-some years. At the same time, she is typical of a young adult in our decade-old new century. But all three Ellie Stone mysteries take place in 1960, when women were not welcome as much more than homemakers, salesgirls and waitresses.

Nobody told Ellie that she wasn’t supposed to do what she does. In her investigation of the disappearance of middle-schooler Darleen Hicks, Ellie has to stay out of the crosshairs of many, including her publisher, who thinks she should hack away at a gossip column, and her landlady, who thinks the empty whiskey bottles in the trash and late-night bedroom shenanigans are wontedness that is scarcely acceptable only because the rent is paid regularly.

You’ll love Ellie, a brave, naive champion of justice surrounded by gender inequalities that she doesn’t even notice. Stone Cold Dead is well worth the paperback price of a hamburger and Coke.

Another April 2015 release that is just as charming and satisfying is the fourth standalone installment of Terry Shames’ Police Chief Samuel Craddock mysteries, A Deadly Affair at Bobtail Ridge.

Like Ziskin, Shames writes herself right out of the story with nearly palpable characters and a plot with terrific momentum that asks for no suspension of disbelief – an amalgamation even some of the best wordsmiths cannot achieve.

Craddock is the retired police chief of a backwater Texas town who has been pressed back into duty with no salary as the result of Jarrett Creek’s bankruptcy. Craddock is a kind man among rural gunsels who believe everyone is as moronic as their neighbors.

Shames specializes in revealing the conniving underside of rural life, and with someone trying repeatedly to destroy Jenny Sandstone, A Deadly Affair at Bobtail Ridge is a fascinating mosey in a world of lethal contradictions.

A June release deserving of attention is Sam Hawken’s Missing, about the disappearance of a 17-year-old student from Laredo, Texas, and her cousin after a concert in Mexican Nuevo Laredo.

Missing is the story of what a father encounters when his child goes missing in one of the world’s most corrupt and dysfunctional countries. Can you imagine? Hawken can and does, and he’ll make you pull your hair out.

Jeff@jeffMannix.com. Jeff Mannix is a local journalist and author.

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