In his fifth novel, The Whiskey Rebels, David Liss delves once again into the financial intrigues of an earlier century and the effects they had on his cast of characters, both fictional and real, in post – Revolutionary War America.
In Philadelphia in early 1792 we meet Capt. Ethan Saunders, whose military career ended in disgrace in the weeks before Yorktown. Documents found in his belongings and those of his older friend Fleet indicated they were British spies, and both were branded as traitors. Fleet was later somewhat mysteriously killed; Saunders' life—including his relationship with Fleet's daughter, Cynthia – was ruined by those totally false allegations. Now Cynthia is asking for Saunders' help: her husband, Jacob Pearson, is missing. All she knows is that his disappearance is somehow related to Alexander Hamilton's new Bank of the United States. As Saunders investigates, he discovers that Pearson's disappearance is merely the tip of the iceberg in a plot that threatens Hamilton's bank and extends to the Pennsylvania frontier, where Duer, an associate of Hamilton, is selling land under false pretenses. Saunders also learns that Pearson is the man who betrayed him and Cynthia's father . . . and the plot begins to take nearly unfathomable twists and turns.
Meanwhile, in the woods of western Pennsylvania, the settlers of Duer's "wondrous fertile" land, which turned out to be "wild forest" have made the best of things and begun making a superior brand of whiskey. Their profits are steadily increasing. When they hear of the new whiskey tax being pushed by Hamilton, the "architect of American corruption"; and Duer, his principal agent, a scheme is hatched to "restore the goals of the Revolution"—a scheme which quickly becomes a full-blown rebellion.
Liss deftly ties together these two elaborate plots, displaying his familiarity with 18th-century financial history, and offers a fascinating look at the factions vying for power in the early years of this country's existence.
Deborah Donovan writes from La Veta, Colorado.