Saturday, August 9, 2014

A CONSPIRACY OF PAPER, thriller about the South Sea Bubble

A CONSPIRACY OF PAPER (Benjamin Weaver #1)

Random House
$15.00 trade paper, available now

Rating: 3.9* of five

The Publisher Says: Benjamin Weaver is an outsider in eighteenth-century London: a Jew among Christians; a ruffian among aristocrats; a retired pugilist who, hired by London's gentry, travels through the criminal underworld in pursuit of debtors and thieves.

In A Conspiracy of Paper, Weaver investigates a crime of the most personal sort: the mysterious death of his estranged father, a notorious stockjobber. To find the answers, Weaver must contend with a desperate prostitute who knows too much about his past, relatives who remind him of his alienation from the Jewish faith, and a cabal of powerful men in the world of British finance who have hidden their business dealings behind an intricate web of deception and violence. Relying on brains and brawn, Weaver uncovers the beginnings of a strange new economic order based on stock speculation--a way of life that poses great risk for investors but real danger for Weaver and his family.

In the tradition of The Alienist and written with scholarly attention to period detail, A Conspiracy of Paper is one of the wittiest and most suspenseful historical novels in recent memory, as well as a perceptive and beguiling depiction of the origin of today's financial markets. In Benjamin Weaver, author David Liss has created an irresistibly appealing protagonist, one who parlays his knowledge of the emerging stock market into a new kind of detective work.

My Review: An honorable man sets out to right a wrong that he cares relatively little about. His quest leads him to wrongs he didn't know were possible, and that he cares a lot about righting. He can't fix it...nobody could then, and nobody can now...because it's all to do with human greed and viciousness.

David Liss came to my attention with this top-notch thriller. He takes the abstruse and impersonal concept put forth by (then-newly minted) economic scientists called "economist"s Hand of the Market, squeezes that bastard tight, and shakes out of it the economists' worst nightmare: The human cost of their depersonalized, accountability-free rent-reaping mills.

What makes Weaver a compelling character is his almost unbelievable level of alienation from every sector of London's social web. A Jew estranged from his family by disobedience. A Jew in the Christian London that persecutes Catholics, allegedly fellow Christians. An educated man who fought with his fists for money. An absolute outsider.

It makes for the best fictional characters, this does, and even better for a sleuth in a mystery. He has access to but not membership in many groups. He can ask questions because he's Different, and he can't be bought off by assimilation--too far outside the pale of anyone's social-group tolerance--nor can he be threatened by exclusion (from what that he isn't excluded from already?).

A successful thriller combines plausible action in service of believable stakes by a character with a definite and powerful moral compass. Delivered here in trumps. It's a pleasure to read a book that makes it clear that markets, all markets always and everywhere, must be controlled, damped down, and regulated to prevent the vile and contemptible from abusing the greedy and gullible. It is, in the end, the rest of us who pay the bill. It was ever thus. It will ever be thus, world without end.

Until we're no longer human beings, that is.

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