October 24, 2009

Rabid Reads "A Spectacle of Corruption" by David Liss

Title: A Spectacle of Corruption
Author: David Liss
Publisher: Random House (2004)
Genre: Historical Mystery
Pages: 381
ISBN 0-375-50855-4

When I won David Liss' The Devil's Company, I was ignorant of the fact that it was a sequel to a previous novel, A Spectacle of Corruption. Fortunately, I was able to borrow a copy of this novel at my local library. Unfortunately, I was ignorant once again to the fact that there is yet another preceding novel called A Conspiracy of Paper. Well, to heck with tracing this series of books back to the very beginning. I decided to read A Spectacle of Corruption while I had it in my hands. I just wish I could say it helped me maintain my enthusiasm for reading Devil's Company.

The story is not lost on me even though it is a sequel, as it stands alone on its own merits. Benjamin Weaver, a thief and brawler of Jewish descent, writes his memoirs after being convicted of a murder he didn't commit. Sure, he's committed plenty of crimes in the past, maybe even killed a bloke or two, but for this particular crime he is innocent. He's sentenced to death by a corrupt and biased judge--can't expect the purity of law when it's the 18th century and your race is considered a blight on the kindly Christian bigots--and expects to hang. But, others conspire to free him in order to use his diverse skills of investigation and persuasion, and Weaver finds himself wrapped up in a conspiracy of sorts at the height of election time.

Full disclosure, I breezed through a lot of this book. I am not what you would classify as a speedy reader, as I pour over each sentence to help immerse myself in the story as much as possible. With Spectacle, I wasn't hooked. I wasn't drawn in. It may be my own aversion to mystery novels, or my less than enthusiastic reaction to 18th century history, but I found little to keep me engaged beyond the voice and actions of Benjamin Weaver.

I read somewhere that Weaver was a combination of Oscar Wilde and Jack Bauer--I am not sure Wilde's "extracurricular activities" would be valid here. That's not bad, as he poses a striking image whether matching wits with the aristocracy or trading blows with roughnecks. Still, the character was not enough to make me want to read through a story I didn't find very exciting.

As with many mysteries, there's a few red herrings to contend with, but maybe you come to expect that sort of thing from such novels. Personally, I prefer them in small doses.

The best feature of the book may be the verisimilitude achieved through what must have been exhaustive research. David Liss knows how to bring the 1700's to life, there's no denying that. I just wish I shared the appreciation for that time period. The nineteenth century is about as far back as my narrow mind will let go in storytelling.

Personally, I'm tepid on this novel, but I liked the Benjamin Weaver character enough to say I'm still looking forward to reading Devil's Company. Who knows? Maybe a second dose of that time period will adjust my attitude. For you, if you like historical mysteries or anything set in a historical English setting, you may want to give this series of books a go. If you tend to steer clear of anything less than contemporary storytelling, you probably won't like this very much.

Enter the time machine at your own risk.

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