three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
11-July-Aug-2004
By: 
David Liss
user_rating: 
0

A Novel

A-SpectacleCorruptionBenjamin Weaver is a "thief taker," the fellow to see if you want your stolen stuff stolen back and a complimentary beating inflicted upon the larcenous folks who took it in the first place. First introduced in Liss’s much-acclaimed debut novel A Conspiracy of Paper, the ex-pugilist of 1700s-era London is accused of a murder he did not commit. Tried and sentenced to death by a corrupt judge, Weaver disguises himself as a member of high society so he can put his investigative skills to work in exonerating himself. As he treads the fetid, rancid English streets in a plot filled with twists and turns, Weaver discovers that his frame-up is part of a larger conspiracy that could bring the entire nation to its knees.
Random House. 381 pages. $24.95.

Boston Globe 4 of 5 Stars
A Spectacle of Corruption contains its most surprising and fascinating aspects; not in the mystery, excellent though it is, but in the masterful exploration of the intricacies of British politics." David Montgomery

Milwaukee Jrnl Sentinal 3.5 of 5 Stars
"I was 20 pages into David Liss’s new historical mystery… when I felt like I was back in my English master’s program, plowing through a difficult book and checking repetitively to see how many pages were left. … But as I read on, I became completely dazzled by Liss’s scholarship, his solid story-telling and gritty re-creation of life and politics in early 18th-century England." Jim Rowen

Pittsbugh Post-Gazette 3.5 of 5 Stars
" If you can endure a rocky beginning, where Liss jumps awkwardly among present, distant past and near past, you’ll enjoy a well-plotted novel that unfolds in a leisurely fashion." Evan Pattak

San Antonio Express-News 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Liss makes the readers see, smell, feel and taste London of the 1720s, from its finest parlors to its smoky, grimy pubs and excrement-filled alleyways. … Then [he] pulls all the loose plot ends together for a satisfactory—and surprise—ending." David Hendricks

Washington Post 2 of 5 Stars
"The chief problem is that Liss is much less interested in ancient politics than in the revolutions in finance and commerce that formed the historical backdrops to the first two novels. The elaborate plot also requires acres of back story, which is not recommended in a book where the main narrative is already in the distant past." James Buchan

Critical Summary

The spectacle of a Semitic Sherlock in 1700s London, who is just as happy using his fists as he is using his mind, is too much for most people to resist. Critics generally praise Liss’ crackling dialogue, stunning visceral descriptions, and total embrace of upper- and lower-class London society. Others accuse Liss of writing jargony dialogue, churning out plot twists to stave off flagging momentum, and indulgently wallowing in arcane, 300-year-old British political movements. Certainly the book has a slow start. Yet overall, critics agree that Spectacle is a worthy successor to its Edgar Award-winning counterpart, Conspiracy of Paper—and a novel that might require a "thief taker" if stolen.