February 27, 2005

Murder and Mystery in 18th-Century London

by PAT CUMMINGS American Digest Book Editor

DAVID LISS' FIRST NOVEL, A Conspiracy of Paper , has won an Edgar Award for Best First Novel, a Barry Award and the Macavity Award. His ex-boxer detective, Benjamin Weaver, is a Jew in London in the early 1700s, estranged from his family and unwilling to re-enter that world. He has found a comfortable niche in London's newly-developing (and somewhat seamy) stock trade, serving as a liaison between lower-class thugs and thieves and their upper-class counterparts.

Weaver begins his memoir with the day a gentleman comes to him with a tale of murder to investigate—the victim, his own father. Despite his cool feelings for his late sire, Weaver is intrigued enough, and sufficiently in need of the money, to follow the clues. Slowly the ex-pugilist is drawn back into the shadowy corners of the stock trade, as he pursues the conspiracy that ended his father's life.

Weaver's dearth of feeling toward his father, and a growing fear that he may be inviting to himself the murderer's attention, provide some motivation to cease his inquiries. There is also a certain Mr. Adelman who offers to pay him to abandon the case.

...and what objection could I offer to abandoning an inquiry into the death of a father for whom I could recall no fondness?
    I turned toward Mrs. Garrison's house and entered into the warmth of her front hall, but somehow, before I reached the top of the staircase, I had dismissed Mr. Adelman's offer forever. I could not say if it was because I did not relish the idea of dealing perpetually with men like Adelman, men who believed their wealth gave them not only influence and power, but also a kind of innate superiority to men such as myself. I could not say if it was because there was something compelling in the unexpected ease I had known in the presence of my uncle and aunt, or the displeasure I felt at the notion of severing a connection with a household wherein lived my cousin's lovely widow...

Weaver's investigation takes him to the heights of London society and to its dregs; to coffee houses and brothels, drawing rooms and gaming clubs, synagogues and bookstores. The trail he follows illuminates the early days of stock trading and publication, and eventually reveals the truth: men are willing to do many things in the pursuit of wealth, but truly ruthless men will do anything to protect their conspiracy.

This first book is followed by other tales of Benjamin Weaver: The Coffee Trader and A Spectacle of Corruption. All three are excellent—readers with a taste for history, mystery and the early days of stock trading will enjoy them as much as I did.

Pat Cummings, constant reader, also reviews books at his site Paper Frigate, and at Blogcritics as well. He can be emailed here.]

Posted by Vanderleun at February 27, 2005 10:20 AM
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