Cast the First Stone by James W. Ziskin (Review by Vicki Camfield)

Rating: 1/5*

1960s Hollywood wannabes, murder, sex and sexuality make up the body of Ziskin’s new novel: Cast the First Stone. The premise offered a good old fashioned murder mystery with elaborations on wider issues of the time, and I was excited to get stuck in. Unfortunately, though, it all just left me feeling a bit cold.

Ellie Stone, the book’s heroine, is seen throughout to be just a ‘girl reporter’ trying to do a man’s job and is constantly faced with prejudice. Although some of her characterisation felt predictable and trite, Ziskin created a determined character in Ellie and she was mostly enjoyable to read.

There were many other characters who came in and out of the novel – some who seemed interesting and who I would have liked to get to know more – but overall there were too many unimportant introductions and descriptions. It became really difficult to keep track of who was important in the story and even more difficult to become invested in any of them.

The novel deals broadly with sexuality and gender in the 60s, and homosexuality, in particular, exploring the views on ‘alternative’ lifestyles in the era. This was done pretty well all in all and I did feel myself sympathizing with the characters on these points – the author dealt with the subject sympathetically, truthfully and effectively.

However, the larger plot was mostly lost on me, as the pace was so slow and there were so many uninteresting and seemingly completely pointless descriptions of events, places, and people which could take up pages at a time.

One specific instance of this was the description of a hotel lobby, where we’re told that “there were exactly three paintings on the walls: small, colorful abstract futurists pieces featuring airplanes. I [Ellie] should have been able to hazard a better guess given my late mother’s expertise as an art dealer, but I’d always been more an observer than a student of art.” This had completely no relevance to the story and wasn’t interesting enough or funny enough to explain why it needed to be there.

I was bored and, to be honest, I just didn’t really get it a lot of the time.

Overall, this book ultimately fell flat for me. I was disinterested in the characters and bored of the plot, and couldn’t keep up with what was what or who was who. I would not recommend this book for the GBC. I was glad to finish it, but getting through it really felt like a chore.

Review by Vicky Camfield.