Thursday, April 20, 2017

A Conspiracy of Paper

A Conspiracy of Paper (Benjamin Weaver, #1)A Conspiracy of Paper by David Liss
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Considering this mystery focuses on 18th-century London stock fraud, it succeeds far better than I might have expected. With a few murders to season the sauce, we're off to visit some unsavory characters, both high- and low-born, Christian and Jewish. The combination of the intricate financial dealings and Benjamin Weaver's more forceful investigative style create a balance and tension throughout the novel. Weaver is a retired pugilist (The Lion of Judah) and a former petty criminal. Liss writes in a style reminiscent of the time period without getting tedious about it. His detective, or "thief-taker" in the parlance of the day, knows that he has to try to understand the stockjobbing world he's been thrown into, but sometimes his frustration results in a violent beating or two. This method yields results.

Quite a few times I was reminded of Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe character:

"He aimed directly at my jaw, and in my weariness I did not see it coming. Or rather, I did see it coming, but I could not quite remember what to do about a punch aimed full to my face."

"The barkeeper showed me nothing but terse indifference--something just shy of politeness. I made a note to myself to return to this place, for I liked its way of conducting business."

Benjamin Weaver is an outsider, but an intelligent one. His wry sense of humor and friendship with Elias Gordon were some of my favorite parts of the story.

I found this book when I was searching for historical fiction about the East India Company. The third novel in this series will find Benjamin Weaver entangled with the EIC. I'm looking forward to that.

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Sunday, April 9, 2017

Hillbilly Elegy

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in CrisisHillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance

I noted about halfway through this book that the author was hardly a typical hillbilly. At the age of sixteen, he was "consuming books about public policy." This might explain how he ended up at Harvard, but he makes it clear that there were plenty of opportunities for him to crash and burn. He credits his grandparents, especially his grandmother (Mamaw), with making the difference in his life. She sounded like a force to be reckoned with and somebody you wouldn't want to piss off. As her grandson noted, Mamaw's favorite TV show was "The Sopranos": change the names and dates, and the Italian Mafia starts to look a lot like the Hatfield-McCoy dispute. Vance's family traces their ancestry back to those infamous tribal combatants.

Vance also nails the half-hearted attempts to brighten up blighted downtowns in the rustbelt:

"Efforts to reinvent downtown Middletown always struck me as futile. People didn't leave because our downtown lacked trendy cultural amenities. The trendy cultural amenities left because there weren't enough consumers in Middletown to support them."

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
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