three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
38-Jan-Feb-2009
By: 
David Liss
user_rating: 
0
Award Year: 
0

A-The Whiskey RebelsDavid Liss is the author of A Conspiracy of Paper, The Coffee Trader, and A Spectacle of Corruption. The Whiskey Rebels is his fourth novel. A fifth, The Devil’s Company, is forthcoming.

The Story: It is 1791, and Alexander Hamilton, Secretary of the Treasury, has established a central bank—much to the chagrin of Thomas Jefferson, who believes that such an institution will give too much power to too few. When Hamilton sets his sights on taxing whiskey, one of the country’s most saleable products, he sets off the Whiskey Rebellion. What follows is a historical thriller that introduces Joan Maycott, an aspiring novelist who marries a Revolutionary War veteran-cum-whiskey maker, and Ethan Saunders, a former spy, a current drunk, and a man involved in a plot to destroy Hamilton’s bank. Along with a large cast of minor characters, the two fight high finance, 18th-century style.
Random House. 519 pages. $26. ISBN: 1400064201

San Antonio Exp-News 4 of 5 Stars
"Appearance versus reality plays out to perfection, keeping readers guessing on who is trying to do what. … The Whiskey Rebels is educational, entertaining and thoughtful." David Hendricks

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 4 of 5 Stars
"Liss fashions a thriller of sorts with fictional characters including a U.S. agent and a conspiratorial woman out for revenge, moving around Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and New York. There are more elements, from slavery to the miserable fate awaiting Native Americans, that Liss smartly combines into a historical novel brimming with reality and personalities." Bob Hoover

St. Petersburg Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"The Whiskey Rebels is a highly entertaining blend of historical fiction and swashbuckling. … The novel isn’t flawless: The plot becomes convoluted, and the action is sometimes predictable, but it is smart, page-turning fun." Holly Fults

Houston Chronicle 2.5 of 5 Stars
"Characters sometimes express attitudes about any number of matters that reveal a too modern sensibility, and it jars. … Other significant difficulties with Whiskey Rebels nag at an otherwise highly readable and thoroughly enjoyable historical romance." Clay Reynolds

Critical Summary

David Liss has found his niche as a historical novelist, and The Whiskey Rebels is an entertaining, if slightly uneven, slice of Americana. Liss’s strength here lies in the details, particularly in the historical figures who play minor roles—George Washington, Aaron Burr, Phillip Freneau, and Hugh Henry Brackenridge among them. Those characters add color to the plot and evoke the late 18th-century history that many of us (for shame) have forgotten. Despite some sharp dialogue, though, the story slows in places, and several critics mention a tendency for the complex plot to hinge on predictable or contrived elements. Still, Liss is a master of the genre, and The Whiskey Rebels is good fun.