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The Professor of Truth Paperback – September 10, 2013

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Big life-and-death questions lie at the center of Robertson's contemplative new novel, but its premise is as commercial as that of a bestselling thriller, amped up by real-life roots. Still haunted by the deaths of his wife and daughter in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Scotland more than 20 years ago, British literature professor Alan Tealing gets a surprise visit from a man named Ted Nilsen, who asks him provocative questions. After some verbal fencing, Nilsen explains that he's a retired American intelligence officer with information that Tealing, who has made a second career of gathering information about the crash, will want to know. Like many others, Tealing believes that Khalil Khazar, the man convicted of the bombing, was not responsible. When Nilsen challenges him to deepen his investigation, the professor, conveniently on sabbatical at the time, accepts. The Scottish tragedy provides the framework for a deeper philosophical treatment of justice and loss and grief, all well served by Robertson's measured, literary prose. Robertson (The Testament of Gideon Mack) makes a case for the messy complexity of truth. (Sept.)

From Booklist

“The last thing the truth does is gleam.” So the professor of truth, Dr Alan Tealing, is told, and so he learns at the end of this mystery thriller, based on the Lockerbie air disaster that destroyed Pan Am flight 103 on December 21, 1988. Tealing is not officially the professor of truth but a professor of literature who lost his wife and daughter in the bombing. Shortly after it happened, it became clear to Tealing that the truth was not necessarily what the authorities sought. The vague but haunted Ted Nilsen visits and, along with a lot of hints, gives Tealing the key that unlocks the improbable plot. Nilsen is an agent for an intelligence agency, and his reason for delivering crucial information to the gadfly Tealing is personal. Robertson, a best-selling author in the UK, has won the Saltire Prize twice as well as the Scottish Book of the Year, and his The Testament of Gideon Mack (200t) was a Man Booker Prize finalist. Yet, despite his talent and this novel’s basis in fact, it does not stray far from the conventions of the genre. --Michael Autrey

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Other Press; First Edition edition (September 10, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 159051632X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1590516324
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,500,882 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Jesse Kornbluth TOP 1000 REVIEWER on October 1, 2013
Format: Paperback

The name of that small town in Scotland should be all you need to recall what happened there.

If you need more to jog your memory, try this: Pan Am 103.

Yes, that.

Just before Christmas of 1988, a half hour into a flight from London to New York, an explosion shredded that plane, killing all 243 passengers, 16 crew members and 11 people in a Scottish village. There were 89 Americans on that plane; until 9/11, it was the deadliest terror attack against the United States.

Who did it? In 2001, Abdelbaset al-Megrahi --- from Libya --- was convicted. According to the evidence presented at trial, the bomb was put in a suitcase that was loaded on a plane in Malta. It went to Frankfurt, then London, and then....

Who gave that evidence? A man from Malta. Just one man. But it was enough.

Jim Swire, an English doctor whose daughter was a passenger on Pan Am 103, didn't buy it. He made a cause out of not buying it. He even went to see Abdelbaset al-Megrahi in jail.

Disconcerting, don't you think? Because if al-Megrahi didn't get a bomb-laden suitcase onto the plane, who did? If he didn't do it, how involved were the police in creating the testimony that convicted him? And how many other cases are also "solved" in order to protect some "national interest" we know nothing about?

It's a great set-up for a drama, and Joseph Robertson, a Scottish novelist, jumped all over it in "The Professor of Truth." In his story the 28-year-old wife and 6-year-old daughter of Alan Tealing, an English professor at a college in Scotland, died in that plane bombing. Tealing goes numb: "That was the point: not to think about it.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By HeavyMetalManitou on November 12, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition
A lecturer in English literature loses his wife and six-year-old daughter in an aeroplane explosion over Scotland. A man stands accused of orchestrating the act of terrorism, yet all evidence against him seems to have been fabricated to make the crime fit the person, rather than collated and judiciously applied - like jigsaw pieces - to prove beyond doubt that he is the missing part of the puzzle. The sole witness for the prosecution is a taxi driver who claims to recognise the accused but only after several unsuccessful attempts, and on the promise of an immense sum of money in exchange for his testimony. Twenty-one years later, a retired CIA operative, dying of cancer, has truths to spill before leaving this world. A Vietnamese woman - exiled from her homeland during war, only to face worse horrors - is the only hope the lecturer, now a professor, has of discovering the truth about who killed his wife and child, and why.

The main character, Alan Tealing, has strong parallels to Robertson's wonderful creation Gideon Mack. This time, rather than being a minister without faith, the protagonist is a professor of English literature who secretly believes that all fiction is futile. Once again, faith - both lost and found - plays a key role in the plot. Also like 'The Testament of Gideon Mack', this novel is an example of focused storytelling, unlike 'And the Land Lay Still', which - sandwiched between two shorter, more coherent books - sprawled to an unnecessary length due to often-irrelevant and frequently dull tangents. 'The Professor of Truth' is distilled storytelling at its finest. Robertson never gives away too much, sticking to the axiom that good writing should begin in the writer's imagination and finish in the reader's.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Jill I. Shtulman TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on December 24, 2013
Format: Paperback
There are sometimes in life that we search for answers and other times when we search for questions – the right questions to ask to make sense of the senseless.

Professor Alan Tealing is in the latter group. The plane that carries his wife and young daughter explodes in mid-air over Scotland – not unlike the tragedy at Lockerbie – and a Mideast suspect is tried and found guilty. Yet Alan knows in his heart that justice has not been served. When a retired and deathly ill American stranger – likely CIA – shows up at his door in an attempt to get right with his God before death, Alan gains the impetus he needs to confront the sole witness on whom the conviction hinged.

“Sometimes you set off and you draw a map as you go. You’re looking for some end point but you don’t know what or where it is. And other times you do know, and it’s a question of how you get there. The narrative is how you get to the right destination.” So says the CIA agent but it could be Alan’s narrative as well. How do you get to what you’re searching for? How do you know when the narrative is invented or off-course?

Certainly you can rearrange the pieces of the narrative. But eventually, it imprisons you for the crime of not being able to believe. Alan Tealing has gone 18 years trying to get to the truth. He is, in a very tangible way, the eponymous Professor of Truth, even though truth “is not pure and separate. It is dirty and decayed and has frayed edges, and holes and tears in it.” Still, Alan must keep on his quixotic quest for truth, although he alienates many people around him.

To arrive at peace, Alan must literally face the fire; his personal narrative starts and ends with fire.
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