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Amsterdam in the 1690s - a boom town with Europe's biggest stock exchange and traders who will stop at nothing to get even richer. Lienzo, a Portugese Jew, stumbles across a new commodity - coffee - which, if he plays his cards right, will make him the richest man in Holland. But others stand in his way - rival traders who do all in their power to confuse the exchange and scupper his plans, his brother who is jealous of his financial wizardry and even his brother's beautiful wife who both tempts and spurns him in equal measure.

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Book Details

ISBN: 9780349115009
ISBN-10: 0349115001
Format: Paperback
(156mm x 199mm x 27mm)
Pages: 400
Imprint: Abacus
Publisher: Little, Brown Book Group
Publish Date: 6-Mar-2003
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Other Editions


UK Kirkus Review » David Liss won the Edgar prize in 2000 with The Conspiracy of Paper, a dazzling tale of high finance and skulduggery in 18th-century London. In this second novel he continues the theme, with a story centred around the developing 17th-century Dutch stock exchange, where vast fortunes can be lost and won. The central commodity this time is the new luxury drink coffee, seen through the eyes of those who have much to gain by its success or failure. The events unfold from three perspectives - Miguel, the coffee trader determined to corner the market, Hannah, his brother's enigmatic wife, and Alferonda, who can manipulate them all. Fundamentally this novel looks at secrets - keeping them, breaking them and living under their weight, and the fog of concealment and betrayal, whether real or perceived, permeates the entire plot. There are twists and turns aplenty as the plot thickens, and Liss demonstrates razor-sharp timing, taking us by surprise again and again. The rough taverns, foul-smelling streets and dank cellars of Amsterdam at the height of her golden age are evocatively described, and although at times the writing loses momentum, the well-crafted plot keeps our attention as it moves with renewed pace towards an unexpected conclusion. (Kirkus UK)

US Kirkus Review » Second-novelist Liss moves from 18th-century London to the mercantile culture of mid-17th-century Amsterdam. The protagonist is Miguel Lienzo (a peripheral figure in A Conspiracy of Paper, 2000), a Portuguese Jew who has found both escape from the Inquisition and multiple opportunities for import and trade in the thriving Dutch metropolis. When one of Miguel's clients, smoldering widow Geertruid Damhuis, introduces him to the pleasures of coffee, he senses an opportunity-and soon conceives a scheme (to be funded by Geertruid) to import the exotic new beverage, artificially manipulate its value, and realize a handsome profit. It's a heady premise, and Liss handles both its details and the period's thick ambience with considerable skill. But the narrative lags. Virtually every scene is clogged with "backstory"-lengthy explanatory flashbacks that focus on both Miguel's personal history and his relationships with other major characters. These latter include: Miguel's pinch-penny brother Daniel and his pregnant wife Hannah (a "secret Catholic," secretly attracted to her brother-in-law); the vindictive specter of Joachim Waagener, a trader ruined by the collapse in sugar prices that also took Miguel's first fortune; Solomon Parido, Lienzo's declared enemy ever since Miguel eluded a contract to wed his daughter; and Alonzo Alferonda, a wily moneylender whose interpolated "Factual and Revealing Memoirs" offer an indeed revealing outside perspective on Miguel's experiences. There are several centers of real interest: Miguel's command appearance before the Ma'amad, the regulatory council that oversees Jews' activities in this stranger country; a vivid climax at the Amsterdam Exchange, where Miguel turns tables on would-be betrayers and rivals; and back-alley intrigues involving a pair of variously employed servants. But the story is too long, and its tensions ebb and flow with frustrating regularity. A vigorous display of the author's mastery of his material, though it lacks the novelty and strong narrative drive of its terrific predecessor. (Kirkus Reviews)

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Author Biography - David Liss

Author of the Edgar-Award-winning A CONSPIRACY OF PAPER (Best first crime novel in the USA).

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