David Liss

Books: Mystery | Historical

A Conspiracy of Paper (2000), A Spectacle of Corruption (2004)

A Conspiracy of Paper (2000)

A Conspiracy of Paper

It's 1719. Benjamin Weaver is a Jew and a thief-taker and an ex-boxer, all of which set him apart from the rest of London society, but it is his work as a thief-taker which leads him to the intrigues of the 18th century stock market, as well as to answering the question of whether his own father's death was in fact a murder and not an accident.

I'm fond of historical mysteries, especially if the author has gone to some length to get the details correct. Although the character of Benjamin Weaver is not historical, many of the other characters in the story, including Jonathan Wild--one of London's first crime lords--were real characters. For me, that itself made the story worth reading, learning about an unfamiliar time and place. But the story itself, and the mystery within, turned out to be a fascinating one.

The story starts slowly. Benjamin is hired by different people for different jobs, and in looking into the death of his father, begins to learn about his fathers job--stock jobbing. It isn't until about halfway through that the story started to pick up and really drew me into the tale.

I was intrigued by London society and the place the Benjamin Weaver, as a Jew, held in that society. I found it surprising that he was so integrated into "regular" London society, and am curious about the accuracy of that. Although there were instances in the story where Jews--primarily traditional immigrants--were obviously treated badly, Benjamin Weaver was far more integrated into the society than I would have expected, although that may have been due in part to the fact that he did not follow Jewish traditions too carefully, and was often not recognized as Jewish.

As I said, the story started slowly, but picked up gradually until I was drawn in. It also wasn't a fast read. I started this book about a month ago, but it wasn't until this week that I really got into the story. But it was good and it was interesting, and I enjoyed it.

If you like mysteries, and you like historical stories, then you should enjoy this book.

Rating: 7/10

A Spectacle of Corruption (2004)

A Spectacle of CorruptionIn the sequel to A Conspiracy of Paper, Benjamin Weaver is convicted of a murder he did not commit, in a trial that was a farce of justice, as the judge all but ordered the jury to find Weaver guilty, despite the fact that the witnesses against Weaver were shown to have perjured themselves.

Although like the first book, A Conspiracy of Paper as a slow, leisurely read, it certainly started off more quickly. Weaver is standing trial for murder, and the judge is clearly out to convict him--regardless of the truth of the matter. Then, in an attempt to learn who has set him up and why he has been convicted, Benjamin Weaver delves into 18th century politics.

I have to say that anyone who thinks modern politics is bad should realize that there is a long tradition of political corruption, and London was a leader. Elections were--quite literally--up for sale, as those running for Parliament took money from businessmen who wanted to own their own Parliamentarians. This money was then handed out to the voters and thugs alike (although the voting clubs got more money than the thugs.)

The major negative about this book is not the writing but the book itself. Like A Conspiracy of Paper the cover of this book is thin, and tends to curl upon itself even sitting upon the table before being read. This makes me crazy, so I was constantly looking for something heavy to sit on the book to keep the covers from curling up. For $14.95, I'd really like a trade paperback cover that is at least as thick as a mass market paperback cover, and didn't make a book look worn before I even open the cover.

If you enjoyed A Conspiracy of Paper then you should enjoy A Spectacle of Corruption. If you haven't read A Conspiracy of Paper, but enjoy historical mysteries, then I recommend A Spectacle of Corruption even more than the first book, since I found it easier to get into.

Rating: 7/10