Picks and Pans Review: The Coffee Trader

updated 04/07/2003 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 04/07/2003 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by David Liss

A Portuguese Jew named Miguel Lienzo meets a Dutch woman with an investment idea: She wants him to put all her money into a new beverage called coffee. It's 1659 in Amsterdam, where Miguel tries to corner the coffee market by outfoxing his own brother as well as the Ma'amad, the panel of elders that rules the Jewish community with ruthless efficiency.

Carefully laying out Dutch history in this literate thriller, Liss (A Conspiracy of Paper) starts slowly. But the plot gathers speed until the crosses and double-crosses have your head buzzing. (Random House, $24.95)

BOTTOM LINE: Strong brew

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