Thursday, August 28, 2008

Book Review: "The Whiskey Rebels"

David Liss, whose earlier historical fiction trio (A Conspiracy of Paper, The Coffee Trader, A Spectacle of Corruption) I enjoyed very much, has lived up to expectations with his newest offering, The Whiskey Rebels (forthcoming from Random House). Unlike his earlier novels, this one is set in the United States, during the tumultuous early years of the Republic, but like the others The Whiskey Rebels hones right in on political, economic and social conflicts of the day to great effect. I know of no other writer - living or dead, of fiction or history - who can write so clearly and eloquently about difficult financial machinations and make them seem exciting.

Putting what must have amounted to some very serious research to excellent use, Liss has woven a fascinating, brutal fictional narrative into a framework steadied by strong and accurate historical supports. By juxtaposing well-drawn characters of his own creation with aptly-portrayed figures from real life (Alexander Hamilton, William Duer, and others), he tells a good story without throwing the history to the dogs. This is historical fiction at its finest.

Beyond his detailed and lively portrayal of the financial schemes, Liss is also an excellent descriptive writer: his depiction of the nascent years of the American nation in all its dirty, tempestuous madness alone makes this book worth reading.

A fine story, very well told. Liss' winning streak continues unabated.