A Conspiracy of Paper

David Liss, Author
David Liss, Author Random House (NY) $25 (448p) ISBN 978-0-375-50292-7
Reviewed on: 01/31/2000
Release date: 02/01/2000
Analog Audio Cassette - 978-0-375-41011-6
Open Ebook - 1 pages - 978-1-299-06383-9
Paperback - 506 pages - 978-0-349-11420-0
Hardcover - 781 pages - 978-0-7862-2665-8
Paperback - 480 pages - 978-0-8041-1912-2
Hardcover - 564 pages - 978-84-204-4252-5
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This remarkably accomplished first novel, by a young man still completing his doctoral dissertation at Columbia, has a great deal going on. It is at once a penetrating study of the beginnings of stock speculation and the retreat from a mineral-based currency in early 18th-century London, a sympathetic look at the life of a Jew in that time and place and a vision of the struggle between the Bank of England and the upstart South Sea Company to become the repository of the nation's fiscal faith. If all that sounds daunting, it is above all a headlong adventure yarn full of dastardly villains, brawls, wenches and as commanding a hero as has graced a novel in some time. He is Benjamin Weaver, a Jewish former boxer who had once abandoned his family, and virtually his faith, too, for a life on the fringes of criminal society as a kind of freelance bailiff who brings debtors to book for their creditors. When his uncherished father dies suddenly, however, and he has reason to suspect the apparent accident was actually murder, he plunges himself into a hunt for those responsible, and in the process changes his life. With his native cunning and his brawling skills, he soon finds himself deeply embroiled with the villainous Jonathan Wild, thief-taker par excellence, who has institutionalized criminal mayhem. He also becomes the pawn of some powerful financial giants lurking in the shadows (much like the corporate villains in contemporary thrillers), comes to suspect his glamorous cousin Miriam of actions unbecoming a lady and employs the wiles of his philosophical Scottish friend Elias to decode the mysterious ways of finance and the laws of probability. The period detail is authentic but never obtrusive; the dialogue is a marvel of courtly locution masking murderous bluntness; and the plot, though devious in the extreme, never becomes opaque. It seems clear that Weaver is being set up as a series hero, which can only be good news for lovers of the best in dashing historical fiction. Agent, Liz Darhansoff. (Feb.)
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