The Day of Atonement: A Novel (Benjamin Weaver)

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9780345520197: The Day of Atonement: A Novel (Benjamin Weaver)
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NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY LIBRARY JOURNAL · Look for special features inside. Join the Random House Reader’s Circle for author chats and more.

The bestselling author of such novels as A Conspiracy of Paper and The Whiskey Rebels continues his masterly run of “atmospheric” (The Washington Post), “page-turning” (The Baltimore Sun), “tremendously smart” (Newsweek) historical thrillers. In The Day of Atonement, David Liss blends meticulous period detail with crackling adventure in the tale of one man’s quest for justice—and retribution.
 
Sebastião 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.

Praise for The Day of Atonement
 
“Enthralling . . . [a] sly, rich and swift novel of vengeance and rough justice.”The Seattle Times
 
“One of the masters of the historical thriller, Liss is back with yet another highly entertaining novel. . . . [The Day of Atonement] paints a vivid picture of the waning days of the Inquisition, and of the truly evil religious leaders who led it. One of Liss’s best books.”—Minneapolis Star Tribune

“Foxx is reminiscent of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher: a man with his own moral code who takes on multiple adversaries simultaneously. . . . Liss has the start of another solidly researched, action-packed historical series here.”Booklist (starred review)
 
“[An] action-packed novel.”The Wall Street Journal
 
“Snappy dialogue and convincing atmosphere . . . The plot moves swiftly to a shattering climax.”The Washington Post

“Another intriguing thriller set against historical events for Liss, who has a knack for period detail, breakneck plots and characters we want to root for.”San Antonio Express-News
 
“Fans of Liss know well his mix of dark arts and historical detail.”—New York Daily News

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About the Author:

David Liss is the author of The Day of Atonement, The Twelfth Enchantment, The Devil’s Company, The Whiskey Rebels, The Ethical Assassin, A Spectacle of Corruption, The Coffee Trader, and A Conspiracy of Paper, winner of the Edgar Award for Best First Novel. He lives in San Antonio with his wife and children.
From the Hardcover edition.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

9781400068975|excerpt

Liss / THE DAY OF ATONEMENT

Chapter 1

Lisbon, 1755

I am not a kind person. That much, I believe, I have established in the previous account of enraged rival-­pummeling. If I am a monster, however, then I am monster made, not born.

Indeed, I was made by men such as the priest who stood before me.

A man might live in London all his life, might upon a daily basis risk encounters with cutpurses and toughs, renegados who would slit a stranger’s throat for no reason but the thrill of murder, and for all that never cross paths with anyone as dangerous as a Portuguese priest. Here was the real devil.

Standing in the gloom on the Falmouth packet ship, I watched his movements, the half-­laugh and calculated smile as he peered through my cabin door. The priest’s expression revealed nothing, for deception was the way of his kind, as natural to him as lying down at day’s end is to you. But it could be my way too. I had not come to Lisbon to kill this particular priest, but I would kill him all the same if the need arose and not regret it. I’d never killed anyone in my life, but I knew I could. Refraining from murder, not the murder itself, had always been the difficult part.

The priest was not five feet in height, and so plump that he looked like a ball for a child’s fairground game. His eyes were wide and bloodshot; his nose large and red from, I supposed, a healthy appreciation of Portuguese wine; and his ears comically massive and hairy. It was impossible to conceive of a countenance less threatening than that of this stunted man with his fleshy fingers, thick as carrot stubs, wiggling as though he played upon an invisible pianoforte. The priest’s masters had chosen him for his task precisely because he seemed harmless and bumbling, the very thing to soften the Englishman’s fear of papists, a mistrust bred into his roast-­beef heart since the days of Bloody Mary.

The ship upon which I had arrived had been at anchor only a few hours now, and it was necessary to undergo this little dance with the priest before I could set foot on dry land. I made no complaint. I was not yet ready to leave, though I had watched from the deck as we approached the City of Seven Hills, as Lisbon styled itself. (The claim, of course, was rubbish. There were far more than seven hills, but the great men of the capital liked to shave off a few insignificant mounds of earth, all the better to suggest a similarity to imperial Rome. Rather like suggesting a monkey resembles a lion because they both have tails, but of the city’s many crimes, an inclination to boast was among the more forgivable.)

First the packet had anchored by the stout watchtower at Belém so the health inspector might take a cursory tour through the small ship, looking into our eyes and mouths, making certain we were not spotted or vomiting or covered with boils. There we had been treated to a bit of theater. Act I: the health inspector finds much in the crew’s appearance to alarm him—­sallow complexions, coughing here and there, some alarming smells from the chamber pots. These sailors, he concludes, must never be allowed to spread their contagion ashore. Act II: The captain presses into the inspector’s hands a purse bursting with silver. Act III: The inspector, upon closer examination, decides that the crew is healthy indeed, and the packet is given permission to continue. The curtain falls, and all applaud.

As we continued on our way, I had watched as the distant palaces and monasteries and cathedrals glittered into view. Then, as we had moved east into the Tagus, came my first glimpse of the white stone and blue tiles and red terracotta roofs. There were the clusters of poor hovels in the Baixa and the Alfama. There were the flashes of green from the juniper and Mediterranean oaks and olive and lemon trees. There was the distant sound of a thousand churches ringing their bells at once.

The August sun had warmed my face as the ship sliced through the sapphire water toward this city, so strange and so familiar. In my memory, Lisbon was a place of looming dusk, its sky forever domed by sooty clouds. It was a land cast in gloom eternal, where shadows had more substance than men. Now the sunlight and the swirl of color, the indifferent beauty of the city and the sea, struck me as a species of mockery, one more deception from Lisbon’s endless supply. That was well enough. This time, I had a few deceptions of my own.

Even for the wary, a category that describes nearly every English­man who arrives in Portugal, the city exuded its charms. Lisbon had seduced its share of pinch-­faced and scornful Anglicans, come to spend a year or two, but who remained for as many decades. Poverty and despair and injustice were hidden from this distance. They were not on the skin of the beast, but in its lifeblood, flowing through secret channels and arteries, so that from the Tagus the eye fell only upon beauty paid for with Brazilian gold and diamonds. Domes and towers and arches jutted forth to announce that here was greatness, here was power. This was the story the Portuguese liked to tell themselves. If they spoke the words often enough, perhaps they could shout down the truth.

These last brooding thoughts I had indulged in from my cabin. I had already seen enough of Lisbon at a distance that morning, and I was not yet ready to return to the place I had lived for the first thirteen years of my life. Lisbon had been my home and my cruel master. Lisbon had taken my parents and stolen from me my friends. Now, I would soon walk its streets. I wished I had not hidden away Gabriela’s scarf, saved all these years, for I wanted to hold it. That ragged bit of cloth had become the sole monument to all I had lost, and I thought it would, at the very least, fire my determination.

The priest was but the first test, the first coin to deposit at a long and ever greedier series of tollhouses. He had appeared outside my open cabin door in his black coat and white cravat, grinning cheerfully and knocking with a lively flick of the wrist as though he were an old friend come to call. I turned to face him, and it was at that moment that I truly understood, perhaps for the first time, that I had placed myself in an impossibly dangerous situation. This thought cheered me.

“Now then, you must be Sebastian Foxx,” the priest said in native English. His voice contained only warmth. Like his appearance, it was meant to announce that this was a harmless man, jolly and good-­hearted, no one to fear. This was no agent of a corrupt and degenerate institution, its maw set on devouring good Protestants and shitting out papist turds. No, no, he was just a jolly fat man, and who doesn’t love one of those?

“I am Foxx.” I stooped slightly as I spoke, for I am tall, and the cabin’s ceiling was low enough to brush my wig. A typical Englishman, on his way to Lisbon to engage in trade, might think of the cabin as a prison cell, and the beckoning city outside as freedom. I knew the precise opposite to be true.

The priest stepped into the gloomy chamber and reached out to take my hand, which he clasped with familiar warmth. His skin was sweaty and not at all pleasant to the touch. I wished I had put on my gloves. I would make a point never again to touch a priest without them.

“I am delighted to meet all newly arrived Englishmen,” he assured me, “but as you are the only one on this packet, today I am especially delighted to meet you. You have rescued me from a very dull afternoon.”

I had seen priests in London—­many of them and regularly—­though these were generally of the Church of England. From time to time I had also spied clerics of the Romish church, but upon English soil such men were utterly impotent, deprived of rights and privileges, and more despised than Jews. They were frightened, skittish things, prone at any time to be struck with dead rats hurled by gleeful children raised not to understand entirely the difference between a Catholic priest and Satan. Here, in Portugal, it was another matter. This affable man could have anyone he pleased arrested upon suspicion of any crime, or, if he chose, no crime at all. A stranger upon the street whom the priest cared mark with a jab of his thick finger would find himself clapped in chains and dragged to the dungeons of the Palace of the Inquisition. The Inquisitions of France and Italy, even the notorious Inquisition of Spain—­they were all dead or toothless. In Portugal, the Inquisition continued unabated, deadly and pervasive and merciless.

I laughed nervously, for I did not wish to appear at my ease. My long apprenticeship under the great thief taker, Benjamin Weaver, had given me many skills. Most of them could be best witnessed as I thrashed a defenseless man in a London alley, but there were skills of a subtler nature too. For example, I knew how to pretend to be someone I was not, and this was more than simply making claims about oneself. A man’s nature was conveyed by a thousand means, by movements of hands and eyes and mouth, by how he stood or sat, by what he looked at and looked like. I little doubted my ability to make the priest believe I was what I wished him to see.

I returned the priest’s handshake, though my hand threatened to slip from his well-­greased grip. “I very much doubt I shall relieve you from dullness, for I’ve little to say that will prove entertaining.”

“That’s where you are wrong, my son,” the priest said. “I love nothing above meeting new gentlemen.” Then he released my hand, and I was glad of it.

I invited the priest to sit in one of the rough wooden chairs bolted to the floor. The vessel had not been built for the comfort of its passengers. The packet’s chief purpose was to convey goods and mail from Lisbon to Falmouth and back again on behalf of the English Factory. Sometimes the packet carried many voyagers, sometimes but one or two, and none of these enjoyed any particular luxury. My cabin contained only two chairs, a table, a bed, and a trunk for storing a few articles of clothing. When upon the seas, it was near impossible to move without knocking into the furnishings, and my shins bore bruises from unsteady efforts to dress or use the privy.

“Now then. Sebastian Foxx,” the priest said, consulting a little book full of notes written in a dense hand, each stroke neat and fully articulated. “This is your first voyage to Lisbon, I see.”

I said nothing for several long seconds as I scratched at crystallized salt upon the splintering arm of my chair. It was something an anxious man might do. Indeed, it was something I ought to do in earnest, for what I planned to do was madness. I ought to be terribly anxious.

“Forgive me,” I said, affecting mild embarrassment. “I was surprised to hear you are an Englishman, or you speak as one at the very least.”

“Henry Winston, originally of Marylebone,” the little man said with an easy smile and a new round of spasmodic finger wiggling. “And now I am here, in Lisbon. It is the place for an Englishman of my religion.”

“It is what I have heard. Indeed, I ought not to be surprised to meet you, but it is one thing to be told there are English priests in Lisbon and quite another to encounter one.”

“Most Englishmen regard my religion as a form of plague,” said Winston. “They do not wish to get too close for fear I shall infect them with my Romishness.” His laugh sounded decidedly practiced.

“It seems foolish to recoil from Catholics in Lisbon,” I noted, like a man trying to ingratiate himself. “They are everywhere. Or so I am made to understand.”

“It is a devout city, and with no small share of priests, true enough. And we must do our duty.” The ship pitched a bit upon a wave, and Winston lashed out to take hold of his chair. He looked positively abashed an instant later. “You must think little of me, but even anchored upon the river, I do not much care for the feel of a ship upon the water.”

It was admittedly a bit choppy, but I had grown used to movement of the seas. The weather had been much rougher on the passage from Falmouth. Once we had come upon a summer storm and there had been general fear of foundering. Ill content to cower in my cabin and hope we remained afloat, I had joined with the sailors in securing the deck. While my attention had been fixed upon loose riggings that whipped around with strength enough to snap a man’s bones, a great wave had collided with the ship, sweeping torrents of blood-­warm water across the deck. I had grabbed a rope an instant before the water slammed into me, blasting my body twenty feet into the air. The wind screamed in my ears. Lightning flashed, illuminating the frantic efforts of the seamen below. For a moment I was aloft, flapping like a standard. It seemed I might be up there forever or might as easily let go, losing myself in the tempest, merging with it, not in truth dying, but simply changing form to wind and rain and lightning. My hands were raw, and bursts of light illuminated the bloodstained rope. I could not hold on much longer, so perhaps I should choose the moment rather than leaving it to uncaring chance. Was there not some merit in making the decision myself? Was there not honor in surrendering to the elements?

Then, for no more than a heartbeat, the wind paused, and I fell, colliding against the wet wood of the deck. I was briefly insensible, but I soon awoke with a dull ache down one side of my body and the taste of blood in my mouth, my hands stinging. The pain was nothing but distant noise compared to the spiteful satisfaction of knowing the wave and the wind were gone, and I yet remained.

To the priest I said, “In time, a man grows used to the waves.”

“I am not a sailing man. I made the voyage here once, and shall never return.”

I nodded slowly, showing the priest the unease and caution he would expect, and then a bit more beside. About now he would begin to suspect that I had something to hide. I would appear to do my best to make conversation, but not chat easily. I would affect comfort, but my actions would betray a man unskilled at keeping secrets. If he was a perceptive fellow, and they would have no other kind in this role, he would see it all.

He clapped his hands together. “To business then. Portugal is a Roman Catholic kingdom, as you are aware. The open practice of other religions is not tolerated. You may not bring Protestant prayer books or Bibles into the country. You may not discuss your religion with anyone not already a declared Protestant, and then only within a private residence, and never upon the streets or within a public building. You must show respect for all members of the Church, all processionals and displays of faith, even when they are not led by a representative of the Church. Failure to do so will be to invite the attention of the Inquisition, which you wish to avoid. The Inquisition has the power to arrest anyone on Portuguese soil for any reason it may choose. Being English or wealthy offers no immunity if you are guilty of heresy.”

I knew all of this very well, but did not, of course, indicate the depth of my understanding. Instead I told him that the captain had explained these details previously.

The priest then smiled, perhaps to soften his message. “It is by no means a difficult thing for an Englishman to spend his time here unmolested by the Inquisition, but respect for our ways and a willingness to be forthcoming are necessary. So, to begin, you must tell me why you have come to Lisbon.”

“I am to engage in business,” I answered, letting the prepared lie roll off my tongue, savoring this first course. “I have come into an inheritance and now wish to establish myself as a factor, perhaps to work m...

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Liss, David
Published by Ballantine Books
ISBN 10: 034552019X ISBN 13: 9780345520197
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