Friday, July 15, 2016

THE DEVIL'S COMPANY, third Benjamin Weaver historical thriller

THE DEVIL'S COMPANY (Benjamin Weaver #3)

Random House
$17.00 trade paper, available now

Rating: 3.5* of five

The Publisher Says: The year is 1722. Ruffian for hire, ex-boxer, and master of disguise, Weaver finds himself caught in a deadly game of cat and mouse, pitted against Jerome Cobb, a wealthy and mysterious schemer who needs Weaver’s strength and guile for his own treacherous plans.

Weaver is blackmailed into stealing documents from England’s most heavily guarded estate, the headquarters of the ruthless British East India Company, but the theft of corporate secrets is only the first move in a daring conspiracy within the eighteenth century’s most powerful corporation. To save his friends and family from Cobb’s reach, Weaver must infiltrate the Company, navigate its warring factions, and uncover a secret plot of corporate rivals, foreign spies, and government operatives. With millions of pounds and the security of the nation at stake, Weaver will find himself in a labyrinth of hidden agendas, daring enemies, and unexpected allies.

With the explosive action and scrupulous period research that are David Liss’s trademarks, The Devil’s Company, depicting the birth of the modern corporation, is the most impressive achievement yet from an author who continues to set ever higher standards for historical suspense.


My Review
: Seriously ugly jacket.

Book is, well, book is...really well plotted, filled with characters whose ideas and motivations I get and even support, and told in a very engaging way.

Liss's trademark business angle is very much in evidence in this book. It's set partially within the confines of the East India Company, and quite a lot of the action takes place around the various business concerns of the characters; all handled in such a way as to make it clear that this story arises from those concerns, driving each actor to his or her next action. It's enviable, the way Liss can see the story in the business and not just the business in the story.

I like this book. I like the hero. I like the way early capitalist London is presented to our senses, and how the author brings us along in our readerly sense of how the sleuth is going to develop across the series.

So why a mingy three-and-a-half?

Because: 1) Several people die, one of whom I know to be a real blow to the future of the series, and in each case the event with its aftermath is curiously flat. The sleuth's response is well-enough drawn, but it's not...the stakes aren't *there* for the (or this) reader. And the quite, quite startling aftermath of one quite important death is announced and left for later, while some very exciting other plot stuff happens.

See? I shouldn't be able to type that sentence without the Nasty Fairy whackin' me a good one, sayin' "too far, boy!" But his whackin' wand is not raised.

2) A surprise reveal late in the chase portion of the story falls sort of flat as well, and a character whose character we are given no reason to admire is revealed to be so amoral as to have—gasp, say it isn't so—slept with men and women both, and for profit! Wouldn't even cause an eyeblink if this were not a) the only time this concept has ever been brought up in the series, and b) a trait presented as somehow amplifying the character's extant perceived vileness.

Full marks for fairness: Benjamin, the sleuth and a self-described vigorously straight man (yawn) does some surprising soul-searching about his sodomitical revulsion. The whorehouse madam makes a pretty good case for the sodomites she serves being pretty much just like the rest of the world. And in the end, a straight man who doesn't write pure scary-o-types when discussing the more fluid borders of sexuality is more to be praised than not. It just doesn't sit right in this case.

3) The Love Interest. Oh god. We now reach the portion of our series where the sleuth must Fall In Love, and with a worthy adversary. Just once, one lousy time, I'd like to see a likable hero like Benjamin Weaver make it through an entire series without a Love Interest. I know it's what the market likes, but yeesh. I content myself with observing that she's a interesting character in her own right.

I like the sleuth, I like the series, and I will buy the next one. You should too.

Recommended for Anglomanes, for business buffs, and for puzzle people; historical fanciers will hyperventilate at some of Liss's more atmospheric passages; and international intrigue fans...stay tuned....

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