Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Book Review: The Whiskey Rebels (2008) by David Liss

The Whiskey Rebels (2008)
David Liss

This work of historical fiction seems surprisingly relevant in our current economic upheaval.  David Liss has created an especially strong character in Captain Ethan Saunders, a disgraced but personable rogue who narrates much of the novel. Saunders accounts for almost all the pleasure I got reading this, and that's a considerable amount. A good part of the book is narrated by Joan Maycott, a sympathetic character at least for a while whose path eventually crosses Saunders's. The book takes a while to gather momentum and sort things out between the two narratives. Once it hits its stride, it is often gripping, particularly when Saunders is doing the narrating.

The financial schemes at the heart of the plot require a lot of explaining, and the dialogue is a bit pedantic in parts. The tale is also quite violent, perhaps not inappropriately given its historical context. The book's climax is exceptionally well-conceived, and perhaps that's where the story should have ended. The brief epilogue, some years later, is way off the mark I think, improbably attributing an infamous historical event to the scheming of one character.

I think Liss is a remarkably talented writer and I applaud his willingness to take his fiction in new directions, but this book, for all its promise, was just a bit of a misfire. Still, I think it's probably worth your time, and I wouldn't discourage anyone from reading any of David Liss's writing, historical fiction or otherwise.

The new novel by David Liss is being released on August 9. I plan to publish one more book review before that date.


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