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by David Liss

Pub Date: Feb. 8th, 2000
ISBN: 0-375-50292-0
Publisher: Random House

A well-researched and highly entertaining historical mystery debut that compares favorably with An Instance of the Fingerpost, Iain Pears’s recent runaway success. Liss’s fiendishly intricate tale of financial skullduggery and multiple murder, set in a solidly realized early 18th-century London, has as its redoubtable protagonist and narrator one Benjamin Weaver—a Jew of Portugese derivation who has forsaken his notoriety as a celebrated prizefighter (“The Lion of Judah”) and criminal to become an independent “protector, guardian, bailiff, constable-for-hire, and thief-taker.” When a haughty client engages Weaver to find his father’s murderer, but is seen to have withheld vital information, Ben finds himself rapidly involved in a multitude of confusingly related intrigues triggered by his search for a nobleman’s missing wallet; a reunion with the family of Ben’s uncle Miguel, a wealthy importer, which raises Ben’s suspicions about his own father’s “accidental” death; furtive meetings and narrow escapes aplenty. Liss’s clever plot expands to embrace the underworld ruled by legendary criminal impresario Jonathan Wild and the machinations of “stock-jobbing” as they relate to the (since infamous) South Sea investment company (suspected of masterminding a scheme whereby “money in England is being replaced with the promise of money”) and the complex secret life led by Ben’s widowed cousin, the beautiful—and perhaps dangerous—Miriam Lienzo. Liss convincingly portrays his estimable hero as fearless man of action, resentful ethnic alien in a society that openly despises Jews, and even self-made cultivator of “the social graces.” And Weaver’s several investigations are conveyed in vivid extended scenes characterized by crisp dialogue and a keen sense of the ways in which character reveals itself through both open confrontation and subtle implication. The very model of a modern historical mystery. Weaver’s closing remarks inform us that “my many exploits are too varied to recount in this volume.— Liss’s readers will hope that implied promise is soon kept. (First printing of 150,000)