Please welcome award-winning author James Ziskin, to talk about his newest Ellie Stone mystery, where he takes Ellie–and us!–to Florence:

Benvenuti a Firenze! Ellie Stone goes to Italy in TURN TO STONE

I write a series of traditional mysteries set in the early 1960s, featuring plucky young newspaper reporter Ellie Stone. Since the first book, Ellie has moved around quite a bit. That’s because she’s living and working in an upstate New York mill town and I wanted to avoid Cabot Cove syndrome. You know, that disorder characterized by too many murders in a small village? Ellie has solved crimes in her adopted upstate home of New Holland, New York City, the Adirondacks, Los Angeles, Saratoga Springs, and now—in the latest installment, TURN TO STONE—in Florence, Italy.

It’s September 1963. Ellie is in Florence to attend an academic symposium honoring her late father. Just as she arrives on the banks of the Arno, however, she learns that her host, Professor Alberto Bondinelli, has been fished out of the river, quite dead. Then a suspected rubella outbreak leaves ten of the symposium participants quarantined in a villa outside the city with little to do but tell stories to entertain themselves. Making the best of their confinement, the men and women spin tales and gorge themselves on fine Tuscan food and wine. And as they do, long-buried secrets about Bondinelli rise to the surface, and Ellie must figure out if one or more of her companions is capable of murder.

One of the perks of sending Ellie out on the road is that I get to write about the interesting places she visits. From Paramount Studios, Malibu, and the Hollywood Hills in CAST THE FIRST STONE, to the famed Saratoga Race Course in A STONE’S THROW, I get to accompany Ellie on her adventures. Next up is a late-summer visit to Florence. Let’s have a look at some of the sites she visits.

First, here’s a map, including a legend that identifies some of the places that appear in the book.

Number 1 is Albergo Bardi. This is a fictional hotel that I placed on the Oltrarno, the section of the city on the southern bank of the Arno river. Oltrarno, by the way, means “beyond the Arno.” You can see it identified on the map as well. The Palazzo Pitti museum and the Boboli Gardens can be found on the Oltrarno, as well as Piazzale Michelangelo, where you’ll find the best views of Florence. San Miniato al Monte is also located on the south side of the river, perched high above the city. Depending on the time of year, the basilica’s façade glows golden in the late afternoon sun. A magnificent sight to behold.

Number 2 is Ponte Vecchio. Ellie crosses this ancient bridge several times in the novel. Today, Ponte Vecchio is home to jewelers, art dealers, and souvenir shops. The famous Vassari Corridor, an enclosed passageway connecting Palazzo Vecchio and Palazzo Pitti, was built above the shops to provide a private thoroughfare for Cosimo I de’ Medici in 1565.

Number 3 is the Porcellino, a bronze statue of a boar in the Mercato Nuovo. This is a popular stop for tourists, who, for good luck, have rubbed the boar’s nose to a bright shine. Ellie remembers having seen the Porcellino in The Light in the Piazza with George Hamilton just a year before her visit to Florence.

Number 4 is the Palazzo Vecchio in the Piazza della Signoria. This is Florence’s town hall. Construction began in 1299. The opening ceremony of the symposium honoring Ellie’s father is held here. A large replica of Michelangelo’s David stands outside the entrance.

Number 5 is Trattoria Cammillo on Borgo San Jacopo on the Oltrarno. This is a real restaurant that has been a popular eating place since the 1940s. It’s still there today. Ellie has her first dinner in Florence there.

Number 6 is Ponte Santa Trinita. This is the next bridge downstream from Ponte Vecchio. It’s also the place where Professor Bondinelli’s body is first spotted in the river. Like so many other bridges and landmarks, Ponte Santa Trinita was destroyed by retreating German troops in World War II. It was rebuilt in the 1950s with many of its own stones that were retrieved from the river.

Number 7 is the Basilica of Santa Croce. Ellie recalls having visited Santa Croce in 1946 with her father when he took her to Italy for an academic tour. Dante’s empty cenotaph is located inside the church (he’s buried in Ravenna), as are the tombs of Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli, and Rossini. Ellie lights three candles here, one each for her brother, her mother, and father.

Number 8 is the Tempio Maggiore. This is the Great Synagogue of Florence. Completed in 1882, it is one of the largest synagogues in Southern Europe. Ellie meets a special witness at the temple in TURN TO STONE and gets a private tour.

Number 9 is the Church of Santa Maria Novella. The church was where the ten young people in Boccaccio’s Decameron met to begin their journey to Fiesole to escape the Black Death in 1348. This is also where Ellie and her nine companions meet to begin their trip to Fiesole.

Number 10 is the Santa Maria Novella train station, located opposite the church. Built in 1934 during the fascist Ventennio, the station is a example of Italian modernism.

Number 11 is San Domenico in Fiesole. This is near Villa Bel Soggiorno, where Ellie and her companions go for their weekend in the country.

Number 12 is Villa Bel Soggiorno itself. This is a fictional house on via Boccaccio in Fiesole, high above Florence. Ellie and her companions spend an eventful few days here, telling stories and enjoying fine Tuscan food and wine, just as the young people did in the Decameron.

Numbers 13, 14, and 15 are locations that play a role in the resolution of the story and, therefore, I will leave them to the reader to discover.

I hope you enjoy your sojourn in Florence! Buon viaggio!

TURN TO STONE launches January 21, 2020. Like all the Ellie Stone mysteries, TURN TO STONE can be read as a standalone. Readers needn’t start from the beginning of the series.

James W. Ziskin, Jim to his friends, is the author of the seven Ellie Stone mysteries. His books have been finalists for the Edgar, Anthony, Barry, Lefty, and Macavity awards. His fourth book, Heart of Stone, won the 2017 Anthony for Best Paperback Original and the 2017 Macavity (Sue Feder Memorial) award for Best Historical Mystery. He’s published short stories in various anthologies and in The Strand Magazine. Before he turned to writing, he worked in New York as a photo-news producer and writer, and then as director of NYU’s Casa Italiana. He spent fifteen years in the Hollywood postproduction industry, running large international operations in the subtitling and visual effects fields. His international experience includes two years working and studying in France, extensive time in Italy, and more than three years in India. He speaks Italian and French. Jim can be reached through his website or on Twitter @jameswziskin.