Saturday, August 6, 2011

Book Review: The Devil's Company (2010) by David Liss

The Devil's Company (2010)
David Liss

This is David Liss's third historical novel featuring Benjamin Weaver, and, not surprisingly, Weaver is in serious trouble once again. It is 1722 in London and a mysterious well-financed figure named Cobb has taken control of Weaver's debts, as well as the debts of his friends and close family members. Cobb then uses his considerable power over them to force Weaver to investigate a murder that it seems was carried out by none other than the British East India Company.

Liss often tries to find some historical example of Capitalism's malfeasance, one in which real people get hurt, and then he endeavors to make this example relevant to our own time. In this case, he draws a distinct parallel between the East India Company's global machinations and today's concerns about global free trade and job outsourcing. Personally, I think this comparison is a bit facile. The book's title, The Devil's Company, refers very explicitly to the British East India Company, the corporate behemoth of its day.

The truth of the matter, at least as I see it, is that the average individual in the developed world is much better off today than in the London of 1722, and one of the main reasons for this is the extraordinary success of the capitalist system, which permitted the unprecedented rise of a large middle class. As I've mentioned in the past, Liss can sound somewhat preachy at times, although, in fairness, he generally tries at least to acknowledge both sides of an argument.

Here Weaver must endure a family tragedy under very unjust circumstances. Liss seems unwilling just yet to offer a suitable woman to Weaver, preferring instead to tease him with beautiful women who are just not quite right for him. Ultimately I found the book somewhat disappointing, but as usual this seems to be deliberate on Liss's part. This author doesn't generally care for satisfying, happy endings that might be disingenuous following all the cruel torments that arise in his novels.

It seems unlikely that Weaver's lonely situation will resolve anytime soon, as Liss has stated on his blog that at least his next two books will not feature the Benjamin Weaver character.  I'll just have to try to wait patiently.


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