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A Spectacle of Corruption by David Liss

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A Spectacle of Corruption by David Liss

Post by Telynor » Mon September 29th, 2008, 3:48 am

When I had read A Conspiracy of Paper earlier this year, I knew that I had to find the next book that featured Benjamin Weaver, a sometimes thieftaker and finder of things in eighteenth century London. Filled with evocative prose, exciting action, and interesting questions, it had been a novel that I had really enjoyed, and I was looking forward to finding more by author David Liss.

Some time has passed since the close of A Conspiracy of Paper. And at the moment, Benjamin Weaver is in a great deal of trouble, and very serious trouble it is too. He's been brought before Judge Rowley, and sentenced to hang for the murder of a dockside worker, Walter Yate. Weaver and his family and friends know that he's innocent, and even his most stalwart enemy, fellow thieftaker Jonathan Wild, has testified that he's innocent. But Rowley, it seems, is determined that he hang, and as Weaver is led away to Newgate prison, a weeping woman who claims to be Weaver's wife embraces him, and presses something into his hands -- a file and a lock pick.

So begins an adventure of false indentites, gang violence, political mayhem and some very strange alliances. Several characters from the previous book have returned, including Benjamin's friend, Elias Gordon, a would-be playwright and surgeon, and the fate of Miriam Mendes, Benjamin's love and the one who turned down his marriage proposal. There's Jonathan Wild and his gang of ne'er-do-wells, and some new characters as well.

After a bold escape, Weaver finds himself having to switch his identity to find the mastermind who wanted him dead, and enters the hotbed of Georgian politics, where the Whigs and Tories are battling it out --literally! -- to see who will be in control of the government as a new parliament is called. By creating a new persona for himself, Weaver is able to enter the aristocratic circles where politics are decided, and men with money buy influence.

Three of those men Weaver is going to get to know very well -- Griffin Melbury, Mr. Hertcomb, and Dennis Dogmill, who along with his delectable sister Grace, will be the most dangerous people that Weaver has ever come across. Indeed, compared to the gangs who are looking for him, for all of their fine clothing and surroundings, they are just as bloodthirsty and rapacious.

To make things even more tricky for our hero, he also is drawn into a plot concerning 'the King across the water,' the would-be King James III of England, the Stuart Pretender to the throne, and his fiercely loyal allies.

I have to say, the pace and style of writing in this one was top-notch. There are plenty of action sequences, period details, some biting commentary on our own political system today, and several heartbreaking sequences when Weaver encounters his beloved Miriam again.

There is however a caveat here for sensitive readers -- for entertainment, the Georgians were very fond of seeing animals fight for blood. The extremely cruel amusements of goose-pulling and cock-fighting and dog-fighting are shown. While not gorily graphic, they are rather intense, and very unpleasant to read about. The general despair of life for the poor and working classes are shown as well -- there are alcoholics lost in gin, prostitutes, sponging houses and a host of problems that we can recognize today.

For anyone who is looking for a historical novel to really enjoy, I can't recommend David Liss's novels highly enough. The plots are intricate but also logical, the characters never dull, and plenty of action and derring-do involved. The stories have relevance to today's issues, and I have to say that Benjamin Weaver is a hero that can be cheered for, even if he does have some rather murky sides to his character and morals.

This was a novel that kept me up well past my bedtime in determination to find out what happened next, and I can only hope that Mr. Liss will continue to write more about Benjamin Weaver. In addition to the story itself, there is a glossary of terms, a timeline, and at the end, an interview with David Liss by Tammar Stein and a collection of questions for readers' groups.

Five stars overall, highly recommended.

Novels by David Liss:
The Coffee Trader
A Conspiracy of Paper
A Spectacle of Corruption -- you are here

A Spectacle of Corruption
David Liss
2005; Ballantine Books/Random House Books
ISBN 0-375-76089-X

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Post by diamondlil » Mon September 29th, 2008, 11:29 am

I have had this author's books on my TBR list for a while but I have never managed to read any of his books yet.
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Post by Misfit » Mon September 29th, 2008, 1:38 pm

I have The Whiskey Rebels from Amazon Vine but I've had a hard time getting into it and have put it down twice. I don't care much for the switching back and forth between two POV's in the chapters.

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Post by Kailana » Tue September 30th, 2008, 9:13 pm

One of these days I wouldn't mind reading this book.

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Post by annis » Thu October 2nd, 2008, 5:37 am

The two"Benjamin Weaver" books are great. I keep hoping David Liss will write more some day.
"The Coffee Trader" was very good too, a dark and bitter tale.

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