Along the way to completing his doctoral dissertation on 18th
century British literature and culture, David Liss took a detour
down a different path. He authored A CONSPIRACY OF PAPER, and for
his effort was awarded the 2000 Edgar Award for Best First Novel.
While the halls of academia lost a potentially fine college
professor, mystery aficionados gained a writer who combines his
skill as a historian with excellent writing talents to produce
compelling and fascinating novels.
A SPECTACLE OF CORRUPTION is the sequel to the first Liss novel.
Once again, readers are transported to London during an era when
England and the British aristocracy ruled the world. Benjamin
Weaver, the classic mystery novel protagonist, makes a return
appearance in the book and once again must solve a crime that has
Weaver is a classic outsider. He is a Jew in a Christian community,
an ex-boxer who supports himself by tracking down debtors and
felons for aristocratic clients. In contemporary society he would
be Sam Spade, Mike Hammer or any number of characters found in
Elmore Leonard novels. In Weaver's first appearance in A CONSPIRACY
OF PAPER he was called upon to investigate his father's death. In A
SPECTACLE OF CORRUPTION the problem is even more personal: Weaver
must investigate a murder for which he has been wrongfully charged
In the year 1722, England was embroiled in a parliamentary election
viewed as a referendum on the rule of King George. As the novel
opens, Weaver finds himself on trial for the murder of Walter Yate.
Confident in his innocence, Weaver is stunned to hear the Old
Bailey jury return a verdict of guilty and in accordance with that
verdict sentenced to be executed by hanging in six weeks. As he is
led back to the Newgate prison, Weaver is accosted by a courtroom
spectator who slips a lock pick and file into his hands. Using
those tools, and with the aid of a friendly fellow inmate, Weaver
is able to escape from prison.
However, escape is not freedom. He must confront two mysteries.
Someone has gone to substantial lengths to see an innocent man
wrongfully convicted of murder while an equally mysterious agent
has gone to great lengths to set him free. Weaver's life hangs in
the balance as he races to solve this conundrum.
Weaver must somehow infiltrate London society to ascertain the
identity of both his accusers and defenders. He assumes the role of
a tobacco grower recently returned to England from the colonies.
With the looming election and the possibility that the British
monarchy may be toppled, Weaver must navigate an English society
heavily embroiled in both politics and crime. It is a difficult
task, but Weaver is up to the challenge.
There is a freshness and uniqueness in reading and solving an 18th
century mystery. Detectives must rely on guile rather than gadgets
to solve the crime. There are no crime labs or computers to provide
simple answers to complex problems. Liss must have Benjamin Weaver
solve the murder of Walter Yate by simple and basic methods:
thought, hard work and logic. Along the way, the reader is provided
with a portrait of 18th century England that is educational and
informative. In addition, a great detective shows once again that
top notch sleuthing knows no historical limitations.
David Liss and Benjamin Weaver make a great team. We know they will
be back --- and we can hardly wait.
Reviewed by Stuart Shiffman on January 23, 2011