From Publishers Weekly
This sequel to Liss's Edgar Awardwinning A Conspiracy of Paper (2000) brings back ex-pugilist Benjamin Weaver and his 18th-century London environs in all their squalid glory. Benjamin has become a "thieftaker," a sort of bounty hunter/private eye, and is investigating the simple case of a threatening letter when he is caught up in a riot, accused of murder and sentenced to hang. After a gutsy escape, he sets about unraveling the mystery of who framed him and why. Donning the disguise of a wealthy coffee planter from Jamaica, Benjamin infiltrates the upper classes, where he encounters a plot centering on a hotly contested House of Commons election. There is much explanation (perhaps too much) of the history and philosophies of the Whig, Tory and Jacobite parties, but this is nicely balanced with Benjamin's forays into London's underbelly, where he has his way with the ladies and dodges dangerous louts looking to kill him. The real fun is the re-creation of the streets of London ("He fell into the alley's filth-the kennel of emptied chamber pots, bits of dead dogs gnawed on by hungry rats, apple cores and oyster shells") and the colorful denizens thereof. Many hours are spent in innumerable coffeehouses, with Benjamin and company imbibing coffee, chocolate, ale, wine and that great destroyer of the poor, rotgut gin, and employing such useful swear words as "shitten stick," "arse pot" and "bum firking." Mystery and mainstream readers with a taste for gritty historical fiction will relish Liss's glorious dialogue, lively rogues, fascinating setting and indomitable hero.
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*Starred Review* Late-seventeenth- and early-eighteenth-century England--from Cromwell through the Jacobites--has become the richest of soil for writers of literary thrillers, the equivalent of New Orleans for contemporary hard-boiled authors. Liss makes the most of it in this sequel to the acclaimed Conspiracy of Paper
(2000). Benjamin Weaver, an outsider three times over--a Jew, a former pugilist, and a "thief-taker" (one who helps victims of robbery recover their goods)--is in the soup again, framed for murder and without a clue as to who or why. He intends to answer both those questions, but first he must break out of Newgate Prison. He does so, in a marvelous set piece, and then finds himself in an even messier pickle: politics. The first English general election is in progress, with Tories and Whigs out-dirty-tricking one another while the Jacobites lurk on the outskirts, hoping to foment a revolution. To determine why he was framed, Benjamin must ingratiate himself with a leading Tory, who happens to be the husband of Benjamin's former lover, Miriam, now posing as a Gentile. Liss' elegantly constructed, multidimensional plot combines all the intrigue of the Jacobite era with a Dickensian feel for London' s lower depths and for the "spectacle of corruption" that is the city's politics. Perhaps the greatest pleasure here is the perfect melding of sharply rendered historical detail with a charismatic, fast-talking hero (an eighteenth-century version of Robert B. Parker's Spenser). This is a series to be savored. Bill OttCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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