The Whiskey Rebels: A Novel
by David Liss
I have never considered myself especially a fan of historical fiction. Nonetheless, quite a few of my favorite novels fall into that category. Honestly, I sort of love these books in spite of their period setting, not because of it. That said, The Whiskey Rebels by David Liss is the best mystery I've read in a long, long time.
It's set in a period I know little about--post-Revolutionary War America. Again, to be honest, my knowledge of American history in general doesn't go much beyond what I learned in grammar school. It bored me senseless because they never taught the really interesting stuff in school. Liss's tale of the Whisky Rebellion (which I had literally never heard of) was complex and riveting. Our hero, of sorts, is Ethan Saunders, a thoroughly disgraced former Revolutionary War spy. He was framed as a traitor to the revolution, ultimately causing him to loose the woman he loved, Cynthia Pearson. In the years since, attended by his slave, Leonidas, Saunders has become a penniless, womanizing drunkard. It sounds bad, and it is bad. This man formerly of sterling character has fallen truly low. Still, for all his many flaws, Ethan Saunders is utterly charming. The man charmed my socks right off, and it is his charisma and humor that caused me so much delight throughout this novel. Mr. Liss, I beg you, bring back Ethan Saunders in future novels!
The actually mystery is quite convoluted, and a bit difficult to sum up in a few sentences. It has to do with the early American economy, and given my ignorance of history and economics, I had to pay close attention to follow everything that took place. But that, too, was the pleasure of this novel. It was complex. It was challenging. There was a large cast of characters, with some appearances by people even I remember learning about, such as Alexander Hamilton. This is an intricate 500-page mystery. There were twists and turns and surprises aplenty. At no point could I have guessed how it was going to end. So, in all ways, it was everything a mystery should be. In addition, it was a romance, a buddy story, a history lesson, an espionage novel, and more. I was fascinated, for instance, with the relationship between Ethan and Leonidas, which was unlike any I'd read about before. The Whiskey Rebels is highly recommended for readers of all stripes and inclinations.