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A Conspiracy of Paper: A Novel [Paperback]

David Liss
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (155 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Jan. 30 2001 Ballantine Reader's Circle
Benjamin Weaver, a Jew and an ex-boxer, is an outsider in eighteenth-century London, tracking down debtors and felons for aristocratic clients. The son of a wealthy stock trader, he lives estranged from his family—until he is asked to investigate his father’s sudden death. Thus Weaver descends into the deceptive world of the English stock jobbers, gliding between coffee houses and gaming houses, drawing rooms and bordellos. The more Weaver uncovers, the darker the truth becomes, until he realizes that he is following too closely in his father’s footsteps—and they just might lead him to his own grave. An enthralling historical thriller, A Conspiracy of Paper will leave readers wondering just how much has changed in the stock market in the last three hundred years. . . .

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From Amazon

A fool and his money are soon parted--and nowhere so quickly as in the stock market, it would seem. In David Liss's ambitious first novel, A Conspiracy of Paper, the year is 1719 and the place London, where human greed, apparently, operated then in much the same manner as it does today. Liss focuses his intricate tale of murder, money, and conspiracy on Benjamin Weaver, ex-boxer, self-described "protector, guardian, bailiff, constable-for-hire, and thief-taker," and son of a Portuguese Jewish "stock-jobber." Weaver's father, from whom he has been estranged, has recently died, the victim of a horse-drawn carriage hit and run. Though his uncle has suggested that the accident wasn't quite so accidental, Benjamin doesn't give the idea much credence:
I blush to own I rewarded his efforts to seek my opinion with only a formal reply in which I dismissed his ideas as nonsensical. I did so in part because I did not wish to involve myself with my family and in part because I knew that my uncle, for reasons that eluded me, had loved my father and could not accept the senselessness of so random a death.
But then Benjamin is hired by two different men to solve two seemingly unrelated cases. One client, Mr. Balfour, claims his own father's unexpected death "was made to look like self-murder so that a villain or villains could take his money with impunity," and even suggests there might be a link between Balfour senior's death and that of Weaver's father. His next customer is Sir Owen Nettleton, an aristocrat who is keen to recover some highly confidential papers that were stolen from him while he cavorted with a prostitute. Weaver takes on the first case with some reluctance, the second with more enthusiasm. In the end, both converge, leading him back to his family even as they take him deep into the underbelly of London's financial markets.

Liss seems right at home in the world he's created, whether describing the company manners of wealthy Jewish merchants at home or the inner workings of Exchange Alley--the 18th-century version of Wall Street. His London is a dank and filthy place, almost lawless but for the scant protection offered by such rogues as Jonathan Wilde, the sinister head of a gang of thieves who profits by selling back to their owners items stolen by his own men. Though better connected socially, the investors involved with the shady South Sea Company have equally larcenous hearts, and Liss does an admirable job of leading the reader through the intricacies of stock trading, bond selling, and insider trading with as little fuss, muss, and confusion as possible. What really makes the book come alive, however, are the details of 18th-century life--from the boxing matches our hero once participated in to the coffee houses, gin joints, and brothels where he trolls for clues. And then there is the matter of Weaver's Jewishness, the prejudices of the society he lives in, and his struggle to come to terms with his own ethnicity. A Conspiracy of Paper weaves all these themes together in a manner reminiscent of the long, gossipy novels of Henry Fielding and Laurence Stern. Indeed, Liss manages to suggest the prose style of those authors while keeping his own, less convoluted style. This is one conspiracy guaranteed to succeed. --Alix Wilber --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

This remarkably accomplished first novel, by a young man still completing his doctoral dissertation at Columbia, has a great deal going on. It is at once a penetrating study of the beginnings of stock speculation and the retreat from a mineral-based currency in early 18th-century London, a sympathetic look at the life of a Jew in that time and place and a vision of the struggle between the Bank of England and the upstart South Sea Company to become the repository of the nation's fiscal faith. If all that sounds daunting, it is above all a headlong adventure yarn full of dastardly villains, brawls, wenches and as commanding a hero as has graced a novel in some time. He is Benjamin Weaver, a Jewish former boxer who had once abandoned his family, and virtually his faith, too, for a life on the fringes of criminal society as a kind of freelance bailiff who brings debtors to book for their creditors. When his uncherished father dies suddenly, however, and he has reason to suspect the apparent accident was actually murder, he plunges himself into a hunt for those responsible, and in the process changes his life. With his native cunning and his brawling skills, he soon finds himself deeply embroiled with the villainous Jonathan Wild, thief-taker par excellence, who has institutionalized criminal mayhem. He also becomes the pawn of some powerful financial giants lurking in the shadows (much like the corporate villains in contemporary thrillers), comes to suspect his glamorous cousin Miriam of actions unbecoming a lady and employs the wiles of his philosophical Scottish friend Elias to decode the mysterious ways of finance and the laws of probability. The period detail is authentic but never obtrusive; the dialogue is a marvel of courtly locution masking murderous bluntness; and the plot, though devious in the extreme, never becomes opaque. It seems clear that Weaver is being set up as a series hero, which can only be good news for lovers of the best in dashing historical fiction. Agent, Liz Darhansoff. (Feb.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
FOR SOME YEARS NOW, the gentlemen of the book trade have pressed me in the most urgent fashion to commit my memoirs to paper; for, these men have argued, there are many who would gladly pay a few shillings to learn of the true and surprising adventures of my life. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
Format:Paperback
When we are faced with a main character like Ben Weaver, involved in performing tasks like the ones mentioned in the title of this review, we know we are in for a great ride. David Liss does not disappoint us and delivers on this implicit promise, clearly showing his gifts as a writer in the process. The author presents a highly interesting historical novel, with an intricate plot, and full of twists that will leave the readers guessing until the end. The fact that he deals with the financial markets and concepts like probability in the eighteenth century, added to the attractiveness of the story for me, since these are topics with which I have been involved throughout my studies and in my current job.
It is an era of turmoil in England; King James has been deposed and is supported by France. This is the ideal setting for criminals to operate, since confusion reigns in the country. Ben Weaver is a Jew who left his father's home and changed his name a few years ago and had a brief moment of fame as a pugilist. Now he sustains himself by working as hired help in various enterprises, most of them dealing with helping people that have fallen victims of illegal acts. Weaver, whose real name is Lienzo (those who read "The Coffee Trader" will recognize the name), tells the story that starts with a murder of sorts in which he was involved. He was trying to recover the pocketbook of Sir Owen and when faced with a murderer his only option was to strike back and kill him.
Most of the thefts in the city are orchestrated or supervised by a character named Wild, who has all kinds of ruffians working for him and who offers services similar to the ones Weaver offers.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Nothing Changes June 21 2004
Format:Paperback
This marvelous historical mystery fiction reads right out of the pages of today's news, with stock trading scandals still undergoing prosecution and conspiracy uppermost in most folks minds as a normal part of everyday 21st century news.
David Liss' robust and manly Jewish ex-pugilist, Ben Weaver, lives in the midst of rough times in 1719's London, a life he has chosen, apart from his heritage of Iberian/Portugese Jews settled into their own part of London then. Weaver, his pseudonym, earns his keep by seeking out and bringing to justice the criminals who trespass on the wealthy, while regaining the treasures of the wealthy for a price. His "trade" parallels that of a most corrupt pre-police enforcer, Jonathan Wild. And Weaver finds himself rival, on a small scale, to Wild's organization. This set-up alone threatens Weaver's very life, but he seems to thrive on adversity, and utilizes his unlikely friendship with a Welsh surgeon to survive the underground powers. It is when he becomes further immersed into his past, indeed the life and family he has rejected as a young man, that Weaver's greatest adventure begins, as he faces the conflicts of a man's roots, namely his Jewish foundations, while seeking to solve a mystery about stock trading in those early market days.
Liss' understanding of financial dealings makes this very hefty and informative tale a tool of education as well as entertainment. He defty employs a fast moving, high action plot to seduce the reader into what might seem dry and boring, the financial trading scene, imbuing it all with an aura of intrigue. Surely anyone who has studied the trade disasters of modern day stock exchanges can identify with the excitement and confusion of the 1719 trade market. A lesson in economics awaits the reader, as well as a grand adventure.
Highly recommend!
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5.0 out of 5 stars Follow the Money April 16 2004
Format:Paperback
Perhaps David Liss has started a new genre, the financial thriller. In the twists and turns of the tale of Benjamin Weaver, Liss allows the historical backdrop of London in 1719 and the impending scandal of the South Seas Company to dress an amazingly complex train of scandal and duplicity. Using an historical figure Jonathan Wild as the arch-villain as an 18th century Mafioso profiting from theft, prostitution and even "peaching" his own crooks to the gallows for profit when they've outlived their usefulness, Liss has a great cast of characters. The behind-the-scenes maneuvering of the Bank of England's Bloathwait vs. the South Seas Company's Adelman serves to keep each new discovery off-balance. The other remarkable accomplishment is the amazing amount of humor that Liss scatters through the tale with Weaver's observations of various loose characters. The supporting characters of his buddy Elias who performs surgery when not too drunk, Kate Cole the un-penitant prostitute and Sir Owen gives amazing possibilities for a budding screenwriter. As Weaver seeks to find the cause for his father's death, we are constantly caught off guard with each new bogus stock or less-than-random act of violence. Cousin Miriam adds a love interest and issues of feminism to the mix. Add to this the cultural backdrop of Weaver being a Jew in Christian England, and Liss weaves an incredibly rich and complex tale that keeps our interest as the pages burn from turning. The climactic scene in the theatre as Weaver unmasks the mysterious phantom of Martin Rochester is breath taking. Bravo!
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Recommended
This is a terrific novel. Crisply written dialogue and always twisting and turning plot that keeps you guessing. Despite the action and intrigue, the story is very plausible. Read more
Published on July 13 2004 by Thomas Dignazio
4.0 out of 5 stars Financial Fiction
Reviewer Lee Armstrong suggests that David Liss may have invented a new genre of "financial thrillers." Au contraire! Read more
Published on June 12 2004 by E. Schell
5.0 out of 5 stars Great historical and financial history
As an avid reader of historical fiction, I really enjoyed this book. Mr. Liss does a fine job of interweaving a murder mystery with a cultural identity "crisis. Read more
Published on March 14 2004 by Melissa K. Bourdius
5.0 out of 5 stars Historical Tough Guy Fiction
Despite its somewhat awkward title, "Conspiracy of Paper" is a first rate work of historical fiction with enough action to please any mystery fan. Read more
Published on March 10 2004 by Brian D. Rubendall
4.0 out of 5 stars Convoluted confection...
Having recently read the Girl with a Pearl Earring, I was looking for another period piece in which to immerse myself and came across this book. Mr. Read more
Published on March 2 2004 by Curtis Grindahl
5.0 out of 5 stars Novel Contradictions: Soulful Thriller about a Jewish Boxer
Anyone how had traded the Talmudic world of Orthodox Jews for Wall Street (or Main Street) would find a soul mate in Liss's protagonist--a thoughtful, reflective Jew whose... Read more
Published on March 1 2004 by Avraham Azrieli
4.0 out of 5 stars PITCH PERFECT READING
Benjamin Weaver lives on the outskirts of society in 18th century London - a former fighter, he's retained by the wealthy to track criminals. Read more
Published on Feb. 17 2004 by Gail Cooke
3.0 out of 5 stars Good, but not great, tale of the past
I had high hopes for this book. These days I rarely read fiction, and when I do, it's usually because it is blending fictional characters with actual events. Read more
Published on Jan. 6 2004 by James Sadler
2.0 out of 5 stars not much of anything
I was generally unimpressed with this book, especially in plot & in writing.
When I read a suspense book, I expect a few properties - I expect something resembling a... Read more
Published on Oct. 20 2003 by Scott R
2.0 out of 5 stars Some thoughts upon reading "Conspiracy of Paper"
David Liss has written an historical thriller of the swash buckling type concerning England's South Sea Company Bubble of 1720. Liss did Dumas up proud. Read more
Published on July 27 2003
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