Saturday, March 6, 2010

A Conspiracy of Paper, by David Liss

 In 2001, this book won the Macavity and Barry Awards for best first novel.  It is also the opener in an historical mystery series featuring young Benjamin Weaver, followed by A Spectacle of Corruption in 2004, and the most current entry in the series, The Devil's Company in 2009.

Set in London in the early 1700s, Conspiracy of Paper begins when Weaver, who is Jewish and  left his family many years ago to be on his own, receives a visit from a young man who has a mystery for Weaver to solve. As it turns out, the man wants him to look into the death of his father, who supposedly committed suicide. But what piques Weaver's interest is that the visitor also suggests that the "accidental" death of Weaver's own father may have indeed been murder.  Weaver had been estranged from his father and family, but with the promise of needed cash, and some curiosity, Weaver agrees to take on the case, even though he realizes that he will have to return to his family at some point.  As he begins looking into both deaths, he becomes involved in a "conspiracy of paper," involving the stock market, the Bank of England and the South Seas Company. He has no idea who to trust in this murky world of deals and double dealing, coffeehouses, gaming clubs and back-alley pubs, and often finds himself at the wrong end of a knife as he realizes that it is not in anyone's interest for plots and conspiracies to be exposed.

The author has obviously done an immense amount of research both in terms of  1700s London and in the treacherous dealings of the early stock market. The book starts off a bit slow as the reader is introduced to the main character and the London environs, but soon picks up and moves very quickly. Liss does a fine job with characterizations but his real skill is in developing a plot which is like being in a labyrinth -- as Weaver starts down one path, assured that he's got it figured out, he comes to a point where he is either at a dead end or there's another branch to follow. Watching him work his way out of the maze of intrigue and murder is what makes this book. I do have to confess that I had part of it worked out early on, but the journey was fun.

I would recommend it to people who enjoy historical fiction or mysteries set in historical periods. Not a cozy by any stretch of the imagination, A Conspiracy of Paper is a book that requires your full attention, and rewards you for sticking with it.


  1. This sounds excellent, right up my alley. Thanks for bringing my attention to another great title!

  2. I like historical mysteries and this one sounds like a good bet. Thanks for the suggestion.

  3. I forgot to mention that the author writes in period vernacular. I don't mind it, but some people have noted that it was a bit off-putting. Just an FYI

  4. Thanks for this review. You've added a new author to my list!

  5. You don't have to thank me, really. I read a lot of authors that not many people know about.


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