by Sukey HowardMay, 2000
The seeds of stock market
Greed and much more fuels David Liss's brilliantly conceived novel, A Conspiracy of Paper. Amid the rowdy taverns, squalid street life, wicked wenches, and thriving underworld of early 18th century London, Liss introduces Benjamin Weaver, a former pugilist and lapsed Jew, who has become a thief-taker or, to put it in current parlance, a private detective, perhaps the first. Hired to investigate the possible murder of man who had dealings with Weaver's father, a stock jobber (or proto broker) who also died mysteriously, Benjamin finds himself enmeshed in a web of financial chicanery, duplicity, and obfuscation at the highest levels, with a bit of help from the lowest, and threatened at every turn. Liss manages not only to spin an intriguing, historical whodunit, but to describe the birth of the stock market (where money . . . is replaced with the promise of money ), the first market crash and the hostile, uncertain world Jews had to deal with everyday. The whole is enhanced by Michael Cumpsty's nuanced, multi-accented reading.
Sukey Howard reports on spoken word audio each month.