The Devil's Company is the latest from David Liss. It's 1722 in London and Benjamin Weaver is being blackmailed. Weaver is equal parts James Bond and Flashman (George Macdonald Fraser's lovable scoundrel). The first sentence of the novel lets you know who you are dealing with:
"In my youth, I suffered from too close a proximity to gaming tables of all descriptions, and I watched in horror as Lady Fortune delivered money, sometimes not precisely my own, into another's hands.“
The first chapter hooks you very quickly – Liss deftly sketches Benjamin, and the rather interesting situation he’s found himself in. Benjamin is involved in a double (or is it a triple?) cross, at gambling, in disguise:
“...for I had dressed myself as a beau of the most foppish sort, and if the nearby revelers took notice of me they saw only a man who wished to be noticed, and who is more invisible than that?”.
A very James Bond-like opening sequence – good fun, exciting, and mostly useful to propel you into the novel.
Weaver manages to get himself blackmailed into spying on the East India Company, which he finds not-too-distasteful as he thinks little of the Company. In fact although The Devil’s Company is fundamentally an historical adventure/mystery, throughout the novel is there is an interesting undercurrent of philosophizing about the dangers of both big government and big business:
“What?” Elias barked. “Give it to the Company? Have you not understood how monstrous it is?” (to find out what “it” is, you’ll have to read the book).
“Of course I do, but these companies are born to be monstrous. We cannot ask them to not be what they are. Ellershaw once said that government is not the solution to problems of business, it is the problem of business. In that he was wrong. The company is a monster, and it is for Parliament to decide the size and shape of its cage…”
The atmosphere of 18th century London is well rendered, and the period language that Liss employs is quite enjoyable – it consistently adds flavor without being overbearing or hard to parse, as is sometimes the case, with, for example, Patrick O’Brian’s works.
The mystery of who precisely is blackmailing Weaver into stealing & spying, and why, unfolds gradually, with many interesting characters making their appearance, and with a variety of plot twists and turns. The Devil’s Company is my first exposure to David Liss (and Benjamin Weaver); The Devil’s Company makes me want to have more. It’s tightly plotted and moves along quickly, and is mildly educational in addition. A great summer read.
(Received through the wonderful LibraryThing Early Reviewers Program)