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The Professor of Truth

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The Professor of Truth [Paperback]

James Robertson
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)

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Book Description

September 10, 2013
A literary spellbinder about one man’s desperate attempt to deal with grief by unmasking the terrorists responsible for the act that killed his wife and daughter
Twenty-one years after his wife and daughter were killed in the bombing of a plane over Scotland, English lecturer Alan Tealing persists in trying to discover what really happened on that terrible night. Over the years, he obsessively amasses documents, tapes, and transcripts to prove that the man who was convicted was not actually responsible, and that the real culprit remains at large.
When a retired American intelligence officer arrives on Alan’s doorstep on a snowy night, claiming to have information about a key witness in the trial, a fateful sequence of events is set in motion. Alan decides he must confront this man, in the hope of uncovering what actually happened. While Robertson writes with the narrative thrust of a thriller, The Professor of Truth is also a graceful meditation on grief, and the lengths we may go to find meaning in loss.

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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

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: 8.1 x 5.4 x 1.1 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: #913,515 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gripping 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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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful

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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars fascinating fixation September 19, 2013
The Professor of Truth
James Robertson
Other, Sep 10 2013, $15.95
ISBN: 9781590516324

Over two decades ago, the jumbo jet exploded in the sky over Scotland. English Literature Professor Alan Tealing lost his twenty-something wife Emily and their six year old daughter Alice in the calamity. Alan also knows he lost himself to that tragedy as he lives for one obsession since his family was murdered: finding the truth as to what happened on that fatal day.

An international inquiry led to the arrest of Khalil Khazar based on testimony by cabby Martin Parroulet who swore he took him to the departure airport where experts insist the bomb was brought on board. When Khazar died three year ago from cancer, almost everyone felt relief with case closed. Never receiving closure, Tealing continues to make inquiries and adamantly believes Khazar was a fall guy. Still over the years he has gotten nowhere including unable to locate the vanished witness until a dying CIA agent sends him to Australia where the cabby lives with his Vietnamese wife in the Outback.

Obviously tied to the Lockerbie disaster, The Professor of Truth is a fascinating look at the aftermath on one man who lost his loved ones in a plane catastrophe. The character driven (by the fixated griever) Scottish subplot is passive yet eerily vivid with plane parts on the ground becoming iconic tourist spots; while the Diogenes-like lead seeks the meaning of truth in western society and whether facts truly matter in a judicial system. The hero's Australian adventures are more typical of the thriller subplot with plenty of gripping action. Whether a reader believes James Robertson's assertions apply to Lockerbie or not, this remains an engaging tale.

Harriet Klausner
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