Stop and sell the coffee. And buy, speculate, circulate rumors, dump stock, trade in futures, flood the market.
For those who like a little social and economic history with their coffee, David Liss' novel is suggestive of something between a gourmet la-de-da latte and a greasy-spoon's industrial-strength dishwater-in-a-drum. Not the same old grind, perhaps, but also not grounds for wholehearted celebration.
Still, the premise and setting of The Coffee Trader is unique, with smaller-scale historical detail as richly rewarding as Liss' remarkable first work, A Conspiracy of Paper, a 2000 Edgar Award-winning murder mystery set amid the world of 18th-century British finance. With this second work, Liss omits the murder, but retains an exploration of Jewish and Christian interaction while playing up a little mercantile mystery in the Amsterdam of 1659, a time and place of refuge for many European Jews trying to escape the Inquisition.
It's also the time and place of the world's first commodities exchange, replete with scheming, deception and all kinds of secret negotiations, and Machiavellian machinations and manipulations.
Although the shift in the sugar trade has left the Portuguese Jew Miguel Lienzo, a once-prosperous trader, debt-ridden and living in his overbearing brother's basement, it doesn't long deter him from trying to climb back up the social ladder. So when Geertruid Damhoulder, an attractive and enterprising widow, somewhat suspiciously and inexplicitly seeks him out for a partnership and plans to monopolize the market in coffee beans — an untested and unfamiliar product to most Europeans — Miguel thinks he sees a way to ascend, and not necessarily rung by rung.
Not that it's going to be easy, with all the emerging monetary maneuvering, paranoia-inducing plots and counterplots, and associates who may not be all that they seem. "You must remember to be careful," a friend who may or may not be a friend tells Miguel. "Coffee is a drink that brings out great passions in men, and you may be unlocking great forces if you trifle with it."