Picks and Pans Review: A Spectacle of Corruption

updated 04/05/2004 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 04/05/2004 AT 01:00 AM EDT

By David Liss

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Benjamin Weaver, the pugilist turned investigator of Liss's 2000 first novel, A Conspiracy of Paper, returns in this intricate historical mystery. Weaver is convicted unjustly for murder in 1722, when brokers advertise EVIDENCE in their shop windows and provide "witnesses" for a price. But a mysterious blonde hands him a lockpick during sentencing, so he escapes from prison and tries to find out why he was framed. The trail takes him through gin mills and hovels to a divisive election (the title refers to it) and back to his true love, now married. More ominously, he tangles with radicals who want to install the Pretender, son of the deposed Catholic King James II, on the throne. The plot is densely patterned and requires concentration, but Liss is a superb writer who evokes the squalor of London with Hogarthian gusto: "On these streets a perambulator is likely to step in turds or bits of rotting dog or the discarded tumor of some surgeon's labors."

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