Sunday, December 28, 2014

A Conspiracy of Paper

I'm finishing up the 2014 TBR Pile Challenge with David Liss's A Conspiracy of Paper.  I didn't care for his The Whiskey Rebels, but found this one much more to my liking and would've given it 5 stars instead of just 4 on GoodReads if the plot hadn't been so darn complicated.

Set in 1720 on the eve of the bursting of the infamous South Sea Bubble, the first stock crash, in London, I found A Conspiracy of Paper to be a wonderful historical novel on several fronts.  First, it gave me a juicy historical event--I've heard about the South Sea Company for years, but never dug into it enough to really know what it was all about.  In his notes at the end of the novel, Liss says that he wrote the novel after researching the South Sea Bubble for his doctorate and felt writing a novel about the situation was the best way to wrap together the various complicated threads that he researched.

Unlike The Whiskey Rebels, the characters in A Conspiracy of Paper are realistic, well-drawn, distinguishable from each other, and his dialogue is convincing.  I really like his main character, Ben Weaver, a prodigal son of a Jewish family who left the fold to become a pugilist and then turned thief-taker, an occupation which has morphed into sort of a nascent private-eye at the novel's start.  Liss does a good job of showing us around early 18th century London through the eyes of someone who is both an insider and an outsider.  Ben works mostly with the seedy underbelly but also has clients among the peerage, and I found myself looking up place names regularly.  I knew nothing about the Jewish community of Dukes Place, for example, before reading this novel.

The novel is really a mystery and is structured that way, with Ben not discovering the truth behind his estranged father's murder as well as four other individuals, until the final pages of the novel.  I found the plot incredibly complicated and sad to say a bit tedious with all its twists and turns.  The premise of the novel--that the South Sea Company and its dealing with the Bank of England and the British government was complex, shady, and secretive--I can totally buy into, but I'm not sure the plot needed to be so intricate for the message to come through loud and clear.  I think I would've grasped Liss's assertion that paper securities are a flimsy foundation for a nation's well-being to rest upon without all the maneuvering.

I don't want to suggest that this isn't a good historical novel--it definitely is--Liss just got a bit carried away is all.  I will definitely look for other novels by Liss--I do like his approach and his history is sound, which is very important to me.

1 comment:

  1. Great review, sounds like a very interesting novel. I also think that sometimes a simpler storyline works best, it's up to the author to make a complex line work.