I usually don't like books that begin with an explanation of their reason for being which is not tied in, in some more profound way, with the main storyline – this kind of thing strikes me as amateurish and unnecessary, even in a first person account. So, given all the glowing praise for this book (not to mention its Edgar Award), when I read its opening comment ("For some years now, the gentlemen of the book trade have pressed me in the most urgent fashion to commit my memoirs to paper") I hoped for some spin at least remotely as unusual as that put on the story by similar openings in each of the four parts of Iain Pears's Instance of the Fingerpost, to which this book has been compared. Alas, I soon found that this hope was in vain, and I almost didn't continue reading.
I am glad that I did, however, because although this is clearly a "first," Liss tells a richly textured and, for the most part, well-researched tale. His background in both history and economics allows the author to give an interesting spin to mysteries as a genre, and to this book in particular. Despite some unnecessary phrases like the one mentioned above, he vividly conveys the atmosphere of the place and the society he describes; namely, that of 18th century London with its lawless underbelly, corrupt judges, dark alleys, ginhouses, whores and, in particular, 'Change Alley and its coffeehouses and the prejudice against "stock-jobbing" Jews. The book's narrator, ex-boxer Benjamin Weaver (born Benjamin Lienzo and formerly professionally known as The Lion of Judah) is a compellingly drawn character. And as a comment on the volatility of the stock market and its dangers for the uninitiated, the book couldn't be more timely; even if its story ends before the actual burst of the so-called "South Sea Bubble."