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The Day of Atonement by David Liss

The Day of Atonement (2015)

by David Liss

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This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I won this from Early Reviewers, and I tried to sit down and read it. But then I moved, and the book got lost, and what little I read didn't resonate enough with me to warrant going out and buying a new copy, so I guess I'm putting this up in place of a review, since I have to put up something. Sorry guys!
  Literate.Ninja | May 12, 2016 |
Each of us sees numerous rainbows in our lifetimes. Sometimes one of those rainbows coincides with something momentous, the birth of a child, a graveside service for a loved one, a wedding, a career change, whatever. We may feel inclined to view the rainbow as a sign of hope or a sign of God's blessing. Is that really the case or is it more a matter of millions of people seeing rainbows every day and some of those sightings being bound to happen at key moments in people's lives?

"The Day of Atonement," the David Liss novel published in 2014, poses this kind of question, but instead of a rainbow, the possible sign takes the form of a great earthquake, the one that actually did destroy Lisbon in 1755.

Ten years previously a New Christian boy had escaped Lisbon and the Inquisition that claimed the lives of his parents. New Christian was the term for Jews forced to convert to Catholicism. New Christians, at least those with enough wealth to be coveted by the Church, were often imprisoned, tortured and sometimes killed.

Now Sebastian Foxx, posing as an English businessman, returns to Lisbon to get his revenge. He plans to kill the priest responsible for his parents' deaths, to settle some other old scores and to right a few wrongs. He also hopes the girl he has never stopped loving loves him, too, and will be willing to run away with him. No sooner does he return than surprises begin occurring. Friends turn out to be enemies, and enemies become unlikely allies.

The biggest surprise, however, is that earthquake, which changes everything, coming at it does at the very moment he is about to kill the evil priest. Is the quake a sign of God's judgment against the Catholic Church or against the entire city of Lisbon for tolerating and cooperating with the Inquisition for so long? Is God using it to remind Sebastian Foxx that revenge and atonement are not really the same thing? Or is it something that just happens at the same time and in the same place many other things are happening?

With earthquakes, as with rainbows and also as with novels, we are each free to interpret them as we wish. "The Day of Atonement" is a fine historical thriller, but it also gives its readers some interesting questions to ponder. ( )
  hardlyhardy | Mar 1, 2016 |
I’m a massive fan of David Liss, especially the Weaver novels, so I was looking forward to reading this.

The Day of Atonement isn’t about Weaver, although he has a cameo in it. It features Sebastian Foxx (born Sebastião Raposa). In a flashback we learn that Foxx was taken in by Weaver as a boy after he was smuggled out of Portugal to escape the Inquisition.

The main events in this book takes place in 1755, some thirty years after the last Weaver novel and ten years after Foxx’s arrival in London. Foxx has grown up an accomplished fighter but tormented by his past. He decides to return to Lisbon, in the guise of an Englishman intent on making his fortune, and avenge the death of his parents by killing the priest who led to their detention by the Inquisition. Of course when he gets to Lisbon life is more complicated than that…

I have mixed feelings about this book. I like the voice of Foxx and the pages turned nicely. The book evokes the atmosphere of Lisbon, and the different cultural and religious groups. It was interesting seeing the differences between London and Lisbon at that period. But it disappointed me on a number of levels.

I’m not particularly interested in a character who only wins because he’s better at fighting than other people. In the early stages of the novel, we get the suggestion that Foxx is a gifted investigator and actor like his mentor. He pretends to be foolish and naïve, with a backstory intended to draw out his prey. But increasingly as the story goes on, he appears not terribly bright and to have misunderstood everything he’s seen. So he’s thrown back onto violence.

The reversals are contrived. Basically if someone seems like a goodie they’ll probably turn out to be a baddie and vice versa. There are a number of holes in the plot. Foxx initially pretends he can’t speak Portuguese but then floors someone in public with his wit and apparently only one person notices his suddenly acquired fluency. Numerous times he has the opportunity to do what he came to do but suddenly can’t because of a laboriously explained complication to the story.

There is none of the subtlety and ambiguity I expect from David Liss. More than that, Liss’s novels are normally about something. Whether it’s the birth of the limited company or political corruption, they have a theme and a complexity interwoven with the adventure. Perhaps the publishers told him to tone it down a bit, people aren’t interested in that clever stuff, just given them an ambush and some blood, but that is one of the things I’ve most admired about his other books. I also like the wry humour of the Weaver novels which is lacking here.

I’m not saying that I expect authors to keep writing the same book, or be afraid to innovate for fear of alienating their readers. I enjoyed this book – I just think it’s not as good as most of his others.

A note on the paperback – the font in this book makes it very hard to read, especially against a background of grainy grey paper. This is particularly annoying as the book is not available on Kindle. ( )
  KateVane | Jan 27, 2016 |
Set in Lisbon, Spain in the mid 1700's amidst the squalor and the Inquisition , this novel's hero deals with a thirst for revenge coupled with a deep sense of obligation and honor. Easy to read, fast-moving and interesting for some historial insight.
( )
  Jeannine504 | Jan 23, 2016 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
As many David Liss novels do, this book draws one into its tale. The story about love, betrayal and honor starts slowly but becomes engrossing as the protagonist discovers himself as he searches for redemption during the Portuguese Inquisition. I received this book as an Early Reviewer and thoroughly enjoyed it. ( )
  Amusedbythis | May 29, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 29 (next | show all)
"Liss has perfected the art of suspenseful historical fiction. The Day of Atonement is: packed with precise detail of time and place; thoughtful and provocative in the larger, moral, human issues that underpin the story; replete with a vivid roster of robust, well-developed, engaging individuals of variously noble and sinister characters; and a complex tale of fast-paced, tightly told, gut-wrenching action with myriad, unpredictable twists and turns of plot."
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When I was a boy, there were days when I was outrageously, deliriously happy, even while I knew such happiness to be a mistake.
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Sebastiao Raposa is only thirteen when his parents are unjustly imprisoned, never to be seen again, and he is forced to flee Portugal lest he too fall victim to the Inquisition. But ten years in exile only serve to whet his appetite for vengeance. Returning at last to Lisbon, in the guise of English businessman Sebastian Foxx, he is no longer a frightened boy but a dangerous man tormented by violent impulses. Haunted by the specter of all he has lost - including his exquisite first love - Foxx is determined to right old wrongs by punishing an unforgivable enemy with unrelenting fury.

Well schooled by his benefactor, the notorious bounty hunter Benjamin Weaver, in the use of wits, fists and a variety of weapons, Foxx stalks the ruthless Inquisitor priest Pedro Azinheiro. But in a city ruled by terror and treachery, where money and information can buy power and trump any law, no enemy should be underestimated and no ally can be trusted. Having risked everything, and once again under the watchful eye of the Inquisition, Foxx finds his plans unraveling as he becomes drawn into the struggles of old friends - and new enemies - none of whom, like Lisbon itself, are what they seem.

Compelled to play a game of deception and greed, Sebastian Foxx will find himself befriended, betrayed, tempted by desire, and tormented by personal turmoil. And when a twist of fate turns his carefully laid plans to chaos, he will be forced to choose between surrendering to bloodlust or serving the cause of mercy.
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On a mission of revenge, and in the guise of English businessman Sebastian Foxx, exiled Sebastiao Raposa returns to Lisbon, stalking the ruthless Inquisitor priest Pedro Azinheiro who imprisoned his parents ten years earlier. When a twist of fate turns his carefully laid plans to chaos, he will be forced to choose between surrendering to bloodlust or serving the cause of mercy.… (more)

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