American author David Liss has had continued success and critical praise for his work ever since he won the Edgar Award for Best First Novel with A CONSPIRACY OF PAPER. In his fifth and latest novel, THE DEVIL’S COMPANY, he brings back his most popular character --- Benjamin Weaver --- who stars for the third time in one of his books.
Benjamin Weaver is a colorful and multi-layered character. An ex-boxing champion and now self-proclaimed Ruffian and master of disguise, Weaver has a knack for getting into precarious situations and coming out on top. THE DEVIL’S COMPANY poses, perhaps, the most daunting and confounding situation we have seen him in yet. The year is 1722 and the place is London, England. Upon meeting a wealthy and mysterious gentleman named Jerome Cobb and his cohort, Mr. Hammond, Weaver learns that he is being set up and blackmailed into an assignment, with the financial security and well-being of his uncle and various friends at stake.
Initially, Cobb must break into the heavily guarded headquarters of the ruthless British East India Company and steal documents that are kept there. Of course Weaver is successful in this venture --- but he knows that this act alone will not be the last nefarious deed he is asked to do for Cobb, who now wants Weaver to set himself up as an employee of the Company and infiltrate them from the inside to obtain information and trade secrets. Somehow, Cobb is able to pull enough strings to ensure that Weaver is hired and put in the appropriate capacity of trust whereby he will be able to uncover what he seeks.
Weaver goes through with this dangerous assignment because he is guaranteed that, once the mission is completed, his family and friends will be released from the obligations to which they are held by Cobb. He quickly learns that the British East India Company is no ordinary workplace, and they do not simply deal in the innocent trade of cloth and tea. The Company is caught in a secret plot of its own against corporate rivals, foreign spies and government operatives. With every association Weaver makes, he uncovers another truth --- or what he believes to be so. Thus begins the spiral that his physical ability alone will not allow him to overcome.
Who are the mysterious Cobb and Hammond? Are there actually French spies infiltrating the British East India Company in an effort to bring them down? Are Weaver’s friends and close associates really in debt to Mr. Cobb, or are there other hidden agendas at work far beyond Weaver’s comprehension? Liss handles all of these puzzles and then some as readers will be drawn deeper and deeper into the deadly labyrinth in which Weaver finds himself.
Similar to some of the more engaging work of earlier British authors, such as Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins, Liss has created a shadowy and perilous London where no one is to be trusted and unexpected allies may turn up in the oddest places. THE DEVIL’S COMPANY is written in an entrancing style that will have readers in a constant state of suspense as the novel keeps the surprises coming with a taut depiction of corporate espionage and the birth of the modern corporation.
Reviewed by Ray Palen on January 7, 2011