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Meet the Author
Acclaimed author David Liss combines historical erudition with mystery, complex characterization, and a captivating sense of humor in books like A Conspiracy of Paper and the highly-anticipated sequel A Spectacle of Corruption.
David Liss never received his doctorate. According to the tongue-in-cheek F.A.Q.s on the author's web site, this is the second most common question that Liss is asked in interviews. The first, of course, is "are you Jewish?"
Halfway through his dissertation on 18th century British literature and culture, Liss decided to take a shot at writing fiction. His extensive knowledge of early British culture and his Jewish heritage informed the world he would create -- an anarchic, corrupt economic playground in which Jews and Christians forge tenuous bonds in pursuit of the almighty dollar.
For the next few semesters, Liss wrote his dissertation during the school year and his novel during breaks. As time went on, the breaks became longer and longer. Liss found himself ignoring his dissertation and concentrating full time on his fiction, living off of a fellowship grant he had received to finish his studies. The gamble paid off; published in 2000, A Conspiracy of Paper was released to glowing reviews and brisk sales.
A Conspiracy of Paper introduced readers to Benjamin Weaver, the "thief-taker" who is also the protagonist of Liss's third novel, Spectacle of Corruption. Benjamin Weaver is "an outsider in eighteenth-century London: A Jew among Christians; a ruffian among aristocrats; a retired pugilist who, hired by London's gentry, travels through the criminal underworld in pursuit of debtors and thieves." Critics and mystery readers immediately took to this "Philip Marlowe done up in a wig and buckles," and A Conspiracy of Paper won Liss the Edgar award for Best First Novel.
The Edgar came as somewhat of a mixed blessing for the young novelist. Liss did not necessarily set out to write a "mystery novel," nor did he feel any particular leanings toward continuing to write in the mystery genre. By winning the Edgar, Liss feared that he would be pigeonholed as "the historical mystery guy." So for his second novel, Liss decided to take a step away from Weaver, further back into the 17th century.
The Coffee Trader tells the tale of Miguel Lienzo, a Jewish trader in Amsterdam who tries to corner the market on a promising new commodity known as coffee. Echoes of our current economic climate surface throughout, and the storyline carries a special poignancy in today's culture of multinational coffee chains.
A Conspiracy of Paper fans finally received their second helping of Benjamin Weaver in 2004, with the release of Spectacle of Corruption. This time around, Weaver escapes from prison and steps incognito into the world of 18th century politics. The setting gives Liss a fresh opportunity to flex his intellectual muscles, creating a fascinating and enlightening portrait of London's political scene.
Liss is currently putting the finishing touches on his fourth novel, which he promises will have nothing to do with the eighteenth century, stock trading, or men in wigs. As for that dissertation, Weaver is still listed in his official bio as a doctoral candidate. With three successful novels and a fourth in the works, however, Liss is not rushing to finish his degree. When asked whether he feels a need to complete the degree, he says, "Not at all. I'd quit again if I could."
Good To Know
A few outtakes from our interview with Liss:
"I once spent a spent a summer selling encyclopedias door to door."
"I am dedicated to the cause of animal rights."
"On my first day of college, I vomited on the dining hall steps in front of a timid young lady and her horrified parents."
"I don't have any especially interesting unusual hobbies. When not working or parenting, I tend to be reading, exercising (I'm told that fitness has replaced alcoholism for contemporary writers), and general socializing. I have a long-standing interest in, and appreciation of, wine."
"Also, I'm thinking of starting my own cult -- a small group of people who will give me all of their material possessions and worship me as the most powerful being in the universe. If you're interested in joining, shoot me an email."