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A Conspiracy of Paper: A Novel (Ballantine Reader's Circle) Paperback – January 30, 2001

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Editorial Reviews Review

A fool and his money are soon parted--and nowhere so quickly as in the stock market, it would seem. In David Liss's ambitious first novel, A Conspiracy of Paper, the year is 1719 and the place London, where human greed, apparently, operated then in much the same manner as it does today. Liss focuses his intricate tale of murder, money, and conspiracy on Benjamin Weaver, ex-boxer, self-described "protector, guardian, bailiff, constable-for-hire, and thief-taker," and son of a Portuguese Jewish "stock-jobber." Weaver's father, from whom he has been estranged, has recently died, the victim of a horse-drawn carriage hit and run. Though his uncle has suggested that the accident wasn't quite so accidental, Benjamin doesn't give the idea much credence:

I blush to own I rewarded his efforts to seek my opinion with only a formal reply in which I dismissed his ideas as nonsensical. I did so in part because I did not wish to involve myself with my family and in part because I knew that my uncle, for reasons that eluded me, had loved my father and could not accept the senselessness of so random a death.
But then Benjamin is hired by two different men to solve two seemingly unrelated cases. One client, Mr. Balfour, claims his own father's unexpected death "was made to look like self-murder so that a villain or villains could take his money with impunity," and even suggests there might be a link between Balfour senior's death and that of Weaver's father. His next customer is Sir Owen Nettleton, an aristocrat who is keen to recover some highly confidential papers that were stolen from him while he cavorted with a prostitute. Weaver takes on the first case with some reluctance, the second with more enthusiasm. In the end, both converge, leading him back to his family even as they take him deep into the underbelly of London's financial markets.

Liss seems right at home in the world he's created, whether describing the company manners of wealthy Jewish merchants at home or the inner workings of Exchange Alley--the 18th-century version of Wall Street. His London is a dank and filthy place, almost lawless but for the scant protection offered by such rogues as Jonathan Wilde, the sinister head of a gang of thieves who profits by selling back to their owners items stolen by his own men. Though better connected socially, the investors involved with the shady South Sea Company have equally larcenous hearts, and Liss does an admirable job of leading the reader through the intricacies of stock trading, bond selling, and insider trading with as little fuss, muss, and confusion as possible. What really makes the book come alive, however, are the details of 18th-century life--from the boxing matches our hero once participated in to the coffee houses, gin joints, and brothels where he trolls for clues. And then there is the matter of Weaver's Jewishness, the prejudices of the society he lives in, and his struggle to come to terms with his own ethnicity. A Conspiracy of Paper weaves all these themes together in a manner reminiscent of the long, gossipy novels of Henry Fielding and Laurence Stern. Indeed, Liss manages to suggest the prose style of those authors while keeping his own, less convoluted style. This is one conspiracy guaranteed to succeed. --Alix Wilber --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

This remarkably accomplished first novel, by a young man still completing his doctoral dissertation at Columbia, has a great deal going on. It is at once a penetrating study of the beginnings of stock speculation and the retreat from a mineral-based currency in early 18th-century London, a sympathetic look at the life of a Jew in that time and place and a vision of the struggle between the Bank of England and the upstart South Sea Company to become the repository of the nation's fiscal faith. If all that sounds daunting, it is above all a headlong adventure yarn full of dastardly villains, brawls, wenches and as commanding a hero as has graced a novel in some time. He is Benjamin Weaver, a Jewish former boxer who had once abandoned his family, and virtually his faith, too, for a life on the fringes of criminal society as a kind of freelance bailiff who brings debtors to book for their creditors. When his uncherished father dies suddenly, however, and he has reason to suspect the apparent accident was actually murder, he plunges himself into a hunt for those responsible, and in the process changes his life. With his native cunning and his brawling skills, he soon finds himself deeply embroiled with the villainous Jonathan Wild, thief-taker par excellence, who has institutionalized criminal mayhem. He also becomes the pawn of some powerful financial giants lurking in the shadows (much like the corporate villains in contemporary thrillers), comes to suspect his glamorous cousin Miriam of actions unbecoming a lady and employs the wiles of his philosophical Scottish friend Elias to decode the mysterious ways of finance and the laws of probability. The period detail is authentic but never obtrusive; the dialogue is a marvel of courtly locution masking murderous bluntness; and the plot, though devious in the extreme, never becomes opaque. It seems clear that Weaver is being set up as a series hero, which can only be good news for lovers of the best in dashing historical fiction. Agent, Liz Darhansoff. (Feb.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Series: Ballantine Reader's Circle
  • Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books; 1st Ballantine edition (January 30, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0804119120
  • ISBN-13: 978-0804119122
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (285 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #249,884 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

David Liss is the author six novels, most recently The Devil's Company. He has five previous bestselling novel: A Conspiracy of Paper, winner of the 2000 Edgar Award for Best First Novel, The Coffee Trader, A Spectacle of Corruption, The Ethical Assassin and The Whiskey Rebels. In 2008, at the United Nations Convention against Corruption in Bali, Indonesia, he was named an Artist for Integrity by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. No one is really sure why he should receive this honor or what it means, but it very possibly makes him the Bono of historical fiction. David Liss's novels have been translated into more than two dozen languages. He lives in San Antonio with his wife and children. Visist his web site at

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

64 of 64 people found the following review helpful By David G. Lalka on April 19, 2000
Format: Hardcover
David Liss takes his readers to the 18th century. Not only does he capture, from extensive and detailed research, the ethos, color, and texture of the time, but his novel, written in the first person voice of Benjamin Weaver, is a near mirror of the writing style and tenor of 18th century British literature.
In this first novel, Mr. Liss educates about the beginnings of the modern financial world--did you ever wonder how and why poeple started attaching value to paper? But, he does so with the intrigue of murder, clandestine meetings, brawls, and the dark alley mysteries of London life. He paints great pictures of the sights and sounds of 18th century London, and yes you can almost smell the stench of the open sewers which were the streets.
His characters come alive. They are well drawn and vigorous. Benjamin Weaver, his narrative protagonist, is not only likeable, but he is extremely interesting, worldly, and persceptive of human nature and human condidion. (We definitely need another novel with this character as our guide to life and times in London.)
This book is without doubt worth the reading. Although it begins a bit slowly, you are committed to discover with Weaver why his estranged Father has been murdered and what that has to do with potential damaging financial scandals.
Mr. Liss is a gifted writer and scholar of the times in which he sets his very good story. Enjoy, his work. It is a labor of love.
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Format: Paperback
This is a novel that captured my interest and charmed me with the history of London in 1719. The setting was so well developed that I felt I could see the ravages of disease in the prisoners at Newgate Prison and hear the crowd as they taunted a prisoner for being a Jacobite.

Underneath the story itself, there are also political lessons for today when we watch the news and see the political unrest in Egypt and Lybia. This is a time when England is in fear of the French and their support of the deposed King James.

Benjamin Weaver is a Jewish detective who is contacted by a snobbish gentleman named Balfour. Balfour states that he questions his father's suicide and that the person responsible for his father's death is also the person who murdered Weaver's father. This astounds Weaver who was not close to his father and presumed that his father's death was accidental.

Underneath the possible murders is the fact that Weaver's father was a stock trader and there may have been stock forgery that caused the crimes.

Weaver is hired by Sir Owen to retrive some matters he lost when a whore got him drunk and stole his valuables. As Weaver finds the whore, we read of the streets of London and the dangers of a city with little in the way of police.

There are other underlining facts. Weaver is a Jew and there is a feeling in society that Jews are out to steal their money. At one time a character states, "...any man who has lost money in funds (stocks) can follow ...the loss to the hand of a Jew."

I was completely entertained by this novel, the picturesque images of England, the well developed characters and the sophisitcated writing style of David Liss.
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55 of 58 people found the following review helpful By Candace Siegle, Greedy Reader on January 29, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Benjamin Weaver is an 18th century London Jew making his way in a complex Christian society, and an equally arcane criminal underworld. After turning his back on family and religion, he has made his living as a boxer, a highwayman, and a thief, until he found the less dangerous occupation of thief-taker. Now drawn back into the world of London's Sephardic Jews by a client who raises questions about Weaver's own father's death, Benjamin is surprised to find himself comforted by the traditions and family he thought he had rejected.
This is one of those books that plop you right in the middle of a fascinating world completely unknown to you. Author David Liss creates the richly textured world of 18th century London Jewry, their traditions, their aspirations, played out against the famous stock speculation by the South Sea Company. Early stock brokers funded much of the 18th century's wars and economic growth from their tables in coffeehouses across London. Of course, there were also disasters, and the Jews, as the only stockbrokers, often took the blame for all sorts of economic downturns, as Weaver finds out.
The characters in "A Conspiracy of Paper" are unusual and engaging. So many books have been set in 18th century London that it seems to be a landscape readers know well. One of the treats of this book is finding a different world in a place we thought we had down pat.
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55 of 60 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 15, 2000
Format: Hardcover
I picked up this book in the store because the cover caught my eye, started reading it by the rack, and could not put it down. Needless to say, I bought it! This is one of the most enjoyable books I've read in I don't know how long. The characters are likable and realistic, the setting (a time and place I didn't know anything about) is beautifully constructed, and the plot is a total page-turner. "A Conspiracy of Paper" seems, at first, to be just a regular mystery, but it is far more compliated, intricate, and clever than any mystery I've ever read. A real treat for anyone who loves to read!
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