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David Liss And David Downing Part Of Pandemic Book Memories

May 9, 2021

I suspect if anyone did a poll it would be discovered that during the pandemic readers not only found new authors to read, but ones to highly applaud and promote. With a need to be more home-bound and away from others the time for books increased, and with the aid of recommendations from other book lovers our reading piles have grown.

It was during this long year past I picked up Alaska, a John Michener book, and for the first time read one of his creations. DELIGHTED!

A Facebook reader of this site, who left Wisconsin in the past four years to live in Cologne, Germany was commenting back and forth in messenger about a variety of topics when we landed on books. When I asked her favorite authors among the names she offered was James Michener.

“I have never read any of his work”

“What! You love books and well-written sentences and you haven’t read Michener?”

“Where would you have me start” (Since there are roughly 40 books in his listing)

She took about four seconds to type out her response.


Epic in every sense of the word from the days of mammoths to railroads, from Russian influences to powerful business interests with Congressional levers of power. Simply captivating with characters that are to be loved and loathed.

And my edition arrived in a gorgeous yellow–my favorite color.

My ‘reading pile’ now has three more of Michener’s many volumes for the summer. Next up Chesapeake.

But it was the discovery of David Liss and David Downing that truly took me aback. While I had, obviously, known of Michener the first books from both ‘the Davids’ captured me at once.

As the New Year started I was reading Liss for the first time. His historical novels with strong financial overlays are raved at by many, and now I am one of his fans. With The Whiskey Rebels I was introduced to his first-person style of writing for each of the two main characters, and with seemingly effortless ease I was drawn into the plot.

He dropped me not only into the historical time frame of President Washington and his Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton but also the financial aspects of the overall plotting. I was there in the raw and harsh society of western Pennsylvania at the same time the wealthy of Philadelphia are made part of the mystery and intrigue. The ‘two-halves’ are presented marvelously.

This weekend I am midway through Liss’ first book, A Conspiracy of Paper, which was published in 2000.

Again, the first-person narrative is so well done which makes his main character leap off the pages as he is so multi-dimensional and ‘real’. The plot unfolds in 1719 with financial upheaval taking place in the dark and gritty streets of London as the world of stock-jobbers comes alive with speculation and the deadly fluctuations of outcomes. Add in dysfunction within the Jewish family of the man who leaped off the pages…truly a gem.

I must add that I strongly suspect Liss must be simply brilliant, and as such, would make a perfect dinner guest.

When it comes to intrigue David Downing, with journalist John Russell in Hitler’s Berlin series, has created a character that will not be forgotten. As Germany ramps up into WWII and then unleashes their madness the world of Russell is alive with cunning and courage as he deals with Russians, Germans, and Americans in a bid to do what is useful and right. But with that desire comes a dose of realism as he must operate in a world of warring intelligence services. The plotting in the books are masterful.

Espionage and spy books are among my favorite types of reads, and as such, I can be rather unforgiving if they are not done with the punch, grit, authenticity, and dark dealings required to make the pages come alive. Downing succeeds!

Downing puts the range of strong emotions and internal drama into the Russell character, who has a son growing up as a German indoctrinated youth. The reporter has a love interest with a free-spirited German actress and has much to lose as he crosses borders and undergoes searches by the Nazis. In the midst of the danger comes Downing with dry wit and loathing of Hitler and his regime, and at the most unanticipated times, leaves the reader laughing over a marvelously crafted sentence.

There will be many ways to study how we altered our lives as a result of the pandemic. It would be interesting to know how many others, as a result of being mindful of medical guidance and professional reasoning, stayed home and in so doing found new and engaging authors. Quirky topic, for sure. But such is the world in which we live.

And so it goes.

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