The Edgar Award-winning novel A Conspiracy of Paper was one of the most acclaimed debuts of 2000. In his richly suspenseful second novel, author David Liss once again travels back in time to a crucial moment in cultural and financial history. His destination: Amsterdam, 1659-a mysterious world of trade populated by schemers and rogues, where deception rules the day. On the world's first commodities exchange, fortunes are won and lost in an instant. Miguel Lienzo, a sharp-witted trader in the city's close-knit community of Portuguese Jews, knows this only too well. Once among the city's most envied merchants, Miguel has lost everything in a sudden shift in the sugar markets. Now, impoverished and humiliated, living on the charity of his petty younger brother, Miguel must find a way to restore his wealth and reputation. Miguel enters into a partnership with a seduc-tive Dutchwoman who offers him one last chance at success-a daring plot to corner the market of an astonishing new commodity called "coffee."
- New York Times Notable Books of the Year
Liss's first novel, A Conspiracy of Paper, was sketched on the wide canvas of 18th-century London's multilayered society. This one, in contrast, is set in the confined world of 17th-century Amsterdam's immigrant Jewish community. Liss makes up the difference in scale with ease, establishing suspense early on. Miguel Lienzo escaped the Inquisition in Portugal and lives by his wits trading commodities. He honed his skills in deception during years of hiding his Jewish identity in Portugal, so he finds it easy to engage in the evasions and bluffs necessary for a trader on Amsterdam's stock exchange. While he wants to retain his standing in the Jewish community, he finds it increasingly difficult to abide by the draconian dictates of the Ma'amad, the ruling council. Which is all the more reason not to acknowledge his longing for his brother's wife, with whom he now lives, having lost all his money in the sugar trade. Miguel is delighted when a sexy Dutch widow enlists him as partner in a secret scheme to make a killing on "coffee fruit," an exotic bean little known to Europeans in 1659. But she may not be as altruistic as she seems. Soon Miguel is caught in a web of intricate deals, while simultaneously fending off a madman desperate for money, and an enemy who uses the Ma'amad to make Miguel an outcast. Each player in this complex thriller has a hidden agenda, and the twists and turns accelerate as motives gradually become clear. There's a central question, too: When men manipulate money for a living, are they then inevitably tempted to manipulate truth and morality Agent, Darhansoff and Verrill. (Mar. 11) Forecast: The current unstable financial markets give Liss's tale added resonance. Reviews should be plentiful. Nine-city author tour; rights sold in Denmark, France, Germany, Holland, Italy, Spain and the U.K. Copyright 2003 Cahners Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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February 03, 2004
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Excerpt from The Coffee Trader by David Liss
It rippled thickly in the bowl, dark and hot and uninviting. Miguel
Lienzo picked it up and pulled it so close he almost dipped his nose
into the tarry liquid. Holding the vessel still for an instant, he
breathed in, pulling the scent deep into his lungs. The sharp odor of
earth and rank leaves surprised him; it was like something an apothecary
might keep in a chipped porcelain jar.
' What is this ' Miguel asked, working through his irritation by pushing
at the cuticle of one thumb with the nail of the other. She knew he had
no time to waste, so why had she brought him here for this nonsense One
bitter remark after another bubbled up inside him, but Miguel let loose
with none of them. It wasn ' t that he was afraid of her, but he often
found himself going to great lengths to avoid her displeasure.
He looked over and saw that Geertruid met his silent cuticle mutilation
with a grin. He knew that irresistible smile and what it meant: she was
mightily pleased with herself, and when she looked that way it was hard
for Miguel not to be mightily pleased with her too.
' It ' s something extraordinary, ' she told him, gesturing toward his bowl.
' Drink it. '
' Drink it ' Miguel squinted into the blackness. ' It looks like the
devil ' s piss, which would certainly be extraordinary, but I ' ve no desire
to know what it tastes like. '
Geertruid leaned toward him, almost brushing up against his arm. ' Take a
sip and then I ' ll tell you everything. This devil ' s piss is going to
make both our fortunes. '
It had begun not an hour earlier, when Miguel felt someone take hold of
In the instant before he turned his head, he ticked off the unpleasant
possibilities: rival or creditor, an abandoned lover or her angry
relative, the Danish fellow to whom he ' d sold those Baltic grain futures
with too enthusiastic a recommendation. Not so long ago the approach of
a stranger had held promise. Merchants and schemers and women had all
sought Miguel ' s company, asking his advice, craving his companionship,
bargaining for his guilders. Now he wished only to learn in what new
shape disaster would unfold itself.
He never thought to stop walking. He was part of the procession that
formed each day when the bells of the Nieuwe Kerk struck two, signaling
the end of trading on the Exchange. Hundreds of brokers poured out onto
the Dam, the great plaza at Amsterdam ' s center. They spread out along
the alleys and roads and canal sides. Along the Warmoesstraat, the
fastest route to the most popular taverns, shopkeepers stepped outside,
donning wide-brimmed leather hats to guard against damp that rolled in
from the Zuiderzee. They set out sacks of spices, rolls of linen,
barrels of tobacco. Tailors and shoemakers and milliners waved men
inside; sellers of books and pens and exotic trinkets cried out their