While inquiring into some threatening notes sent to a Church of England priest, Weaver is arrested for the murder of a dockworker. After his conviction, engineered by a crooked judge who has blatantly instructed the jury to disregard the truth, Weaver escapes from prison, intent upon proving his innocence.
Meanwhile, Great Britain is reeling from a financial scandal that has sent the economy into a downward spiral; it is also preparing for a general parliamentary election - an event that happens only every seven years. Not generally someone to get caught up in politics, Benjamin Weaver finds himself caught in the crossfire of election trickery as he attempts to clear his name.
The question remains, however: What good is proving his innocence, again, when having done so once only resulted in conviction? Instead, he is determined to work against his enemies and learn their secrets to try to discover why he has been singled out for this prosecution. The most likely engineer of his ruin is Dennis Dogmill, a tobacco importer and the election agent of the Whig candidate for the Westminster Parliamentary seat. Dogmill's opponent, and Weaver's unlikely ally, is Griffin Melbury, the Tory candidate and the husband of his cousin's widow, Miriam, whom Weaver once sought to marry.
To discover the truth about the plot against him, Weaver disguises himself as a newly returned West Indian plantation owner. He must integrate himself with London society and political manipulators in order to learn the truth.
©2004 David Liss; (P)2004 Brilliance Audio, Inc.
I can honestly say I'm one of David Liss's most ardent fans. I have LOVED -- and reread -- his first books several times. They have everything I like -- historical setting, a good mystery, interesting characters, absolutely fascinating details about whatever time period he's writing about. Those books just can't be beat. So I was looking forward to this one.
I had an inclining of trouble from the first moment, when the book starts with a listing of the dozen or so successors to the tumultuous British throne following Henry VIII -- that's exactly the kind of thing that made you hate history in school, the meaningless need to memorize names and dates without any apparent relevance. To include that list might make sense in a paper book -- you could look back if you wished -- but it makes no sense at all in an audiobook. But worse yet was what that list implied: that you'd need to know this stuff before you could hook into the book.
Truth is, you don't really need that list -- you just need to know that this was a violent time in Great Britain, where competitors were offing each other, right and left, legally and otherwise, in a no-holds-barred battle for power. But even so, there was still too much time-period politics in this book to make it very interesting. Okay, the Whigs and the Tories were fighting it out, with the Jacobeans in there punching whenever they could. Much as I love this period in England, not to mention contemporary US and Israeli politics, I just didn't find this account very interesting. Politics is a paper game, a numbers game, and it takes something more than heated differences of ideology to make it interesting.
Strike number two: I'm always amused by fictional characters who barf when they come upon a nasty crime scene. I always think, "I'd never do that. I'm tough. It wouldn't bother me." But I tell ya, this book had several scenes -- several including animal abuse -- that made me ill just listening to it. Literally ill -- my stomach was rattling. The one involving the goose was just too much -- too painful, too agonizing, too awful to even think about. I don't want that scene in my head, not now, not ever. I took my ear buds out for about ten minutes, hoping they'd get done with it and move on. Just awful, really.
There was no strike three -- but a couple of good things. The narrator, for one. Michael Page is just way beyond excellent. I can't praise him enough. That, plus there is a full component of Liss's trademark tidbits of history and observation. One example: He makes the point, several times, that it was when the terms of elected officials were lengthened that the most serious corruption -- and expensive electioneering -- came into being. With longer terms -- more time to feed at the trough -- winning elective office became more desirable, and hence more combinative, in every sense. A worthy observation -- makes sense to me. There's lots of those things in the book -- I loved those parts. Liss is GOOD, y'know?
So if you're in for a pretty-dull, overly laden tome detailing electoral politics in 18th Century England, go for it. If not, reread -- or listen to -- the earlier books. One -- The Whiskey Rebels -- ranks at the top of my list for Best Books Ever. It's a gem -- and a much better use of time than this one.
This is my second David Liss novel -- the first was the equally impressive "The Coffee Trader," whose main character is also a Jew living among Gentiles -- in that case, a former Portuguese commodities broker living among the Dutch, while the protagonist here is Benjamin Weaver, a "thief taker" (someone who hires himself out to retrieve stolen property from the thief -- shades of Travis McGee in the John D. MacDonald series!) living in 1620s London, who finds himself first wrongfully accused and then wrongfully convicted of murder. (Weaver may be a distant relative of the protagonist in "The Coffee Trader," as Liss drops a hint that they both share the same family name from their Portuguese roots.)
Liss does an excellent job recreating the historical period in which this story is set, and weaves an engrossing story despite the somewhat obscure political hijinks that give rise to the main character's difficulties. Despite choosing such unfamiliar terrain -- a scheme involving "Whigs," "Jacobites," and "Tories" -- the book's introduction gives a helpful "road map" to the main historical intrigues, so that they become part of the background of the story, which can thereafter be followed with relative ease. Weaver himself is not the most admirable of main characters, but it's in keeping with the fairly rough profession he's in.
Still, the real prize here is the extraordinary talent of Michael Page, who's as good as having a full cast performance. Page is like the Mel Blanc of narrators, effortlessly sliding between patrician, plebian, Londoner, Irishman, Scotsman, and a host of other voices. Each character's voice is distinctive and memorable, which also helps you to keep your place in the complicated narrative. It's a shame this is the only one of Liss' novels that's he's read, because Page could make the phone book sound interesting. If you like historical fiction, this is a good bet, and you can never go wrong with this narrator.
This is a gripping tale rich with historical detail. Perhaps not as good as the first book in the series, which I read in print, the narration makes up for this. Excellent shift between British regional and class accents.
This story just didn't hold my attention, Even when I replayed the recording when I realized my mind had wandered I just could not stay with the story. Benjamin Weaver just seems to be excessively tooting his own horn in every adventure he relates. How he treats his friends makes my wonder why he has any friends. There was something there because I am going to listen to the second book of the series.
An excellent narrator, compelling plot, a interesting depiction of the period, a good mystery - but for all that the story still falls short. Firstly one piece of advice I wish I had known before reading is not to get too distracted by the political backdrop - you will absorb the important points as the plot unfolds.
As to the story itself; the author would have done better to allow the main character (who is supposedly retelling this story many years after the events) a bit of introspection and analysis given that he has the benefit of being far removed from the action. Instead this is more of a straight up re-telling of events which is a pity as the plot lends itself to humor, if only the character had a sense of humor. It also posed many moral questions, but never addressed them - in fact the character merely blunders through the story never questioning his actions or growing in any meaningful way.
It was an interesting plot but a bland retelling. I don't think I'll bother with the rest of the series unless boredom moves me to give it a second chance.
David Liss takes you into 1722, with all the sounds and smells and grimy personalities. The first-person hero (brilliantly played by Michael Page) is a Jewish "thief catcher" (read: private investigator) in a world that has no use for him, moving through all levels of society - from the upper class Tory drawing room to the new money Whigs to the "middling sort" to dock workers to the hopeless gin-swilling poor. Anyone who wants to understand why the English came to the colonies, or why the spiritual awakening of a decade later came to pass will learn much by experiencing the corruption of every level of society.
This is a murder mystery -- which is difficult for an author to pull off in a strange cultural setting, but Liss weaves through all the politics and class struggles with the deftness of a thief catcher, and delivers a surprising conclusion.
The descriptions and language are as rough as a porter's hand and as noisome as a used chamber pot under the bed. And the politics described are not unlike the foolishness of three centuries later.
David Liss has crafted a delightful period detective murder mystery with the main character falsely convicted. After escaping from prison, Benjamin Weaver decides to go undercover to ferret out the real killer and divine the reasons for the murder in the first place as well as his being framed as a result. Set in early 18th century England with an ongoing Parliamentary election that plays prominently in the action, the similarities with current events is eerie, while the divergent views towards genders and minorities makes for interesting situations. Weaver is that period's version of a private detective as well as a former pugilist; but without the benefit of modern technology, he must rely on his quick wits and fast fists. He also possesses a good friend and confidant who is probably Dr. Watson great-grandfather.
The pacing is excellent with Weaver slipping back and forth between his real and false personae. The complexity of the mystery is apparent from the start and the plot twists are well timed. Of particular note is the descriptions of the societal organization and mannerisms that make this historical period quite accessible and believable. Observing Weaver figure it out is a wonderful delight with a can't turn off quality.
The narration is excellent with a great range of accents that span the socioeconomic spectrum of that time.
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