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An Instance of the Fingerpost Paperback – April 1, 2000
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An Instance of the Fingerpost is that rarest of all possible literary beasts--a mystery powered as much by ideas as by suspects, autopsies, and smoking guns. Hefty, intricately plotted, and intellectually ambitious, Fingerpost has drawn the inevitable comparisons to Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose and, for once, the comparison is apt.
The year is 1663, and the setting is Oxford, England, during the height of Restoration political intrigue. When Dr. Robert Grove is found dead in his Oxford room, hands clenched and face frozen in a rictus of pain, all the signs point to poison. Rashomon-like, the narrative circles around Grove's murder as four different characters give their version of events: Marco da Cola, a visiting Italian physician--or so he would like the reader to believe; Jack Prestcott, the son of a traitor who fled the country to avoid execution; Dr. John Wallis, a mathematician and cryptographer with a predilection for conspiracy theories; and Anthony Wood, a mild-mannered Oxford antiquarian whose tale proves to be the book's "instance of the fingerpost." (The quote comes from the philosopher Bacon, who, while asserting that all evidence is ultimately fallible, allows for "one instance of a fingerpost that points in one direction only, and allows of no other possibility.")
Like The Name of the Rose, this is one whodunit in which the principal mystery is the nature of truth itself. Along the way, Pears displays a keen eye for period details as diverse as the early days of medicine, the convoluted politics of the English Civil War, and the newfangled fashion for wigs. Yet Pears never loses sight of his characters, who manage to be both utterly authentic denizens of the 17th century and utterly authentic human beings. As a mystery, An Instance of the Fingerpost is entertainment of the most intelligent sort; as a novel of ideas, it proves equally satisfying. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Library Journal
England of the 1660s was full of political and intellectual turmoil, speculation, and experimentation?not to mention a cast of colorful and controversial characters. It is firmly within this maelstrom that Pears (The Last Judgment, LJ 2/1/96) has set this massive historical whodunit. A fellow of New College, Oxford, is found dead of arsenic poisoning (from a fancy carafe of brandy), and a young woman of the evening is accused, sentenced, and hanged for his murder. Case seemingly closed. But no, four very different versions of what really happened to the late Professor Grange related by four eyewitnesses to the crime weave a convoluted fabric of religious, scientific, and political intrigue. Basing his novel loosely upon an actual case from the period, Pears pits the key minds of the day?Boyle, Locke, Wren, and others against one another as each takes a shot at gaining from the event. Strange bedfellows indeed. Followers of Brother Cadfael and the works of Anne Perry and Umberto Eco will revel in this smartly paced, rather tongue-in-cheek tour de force.
-?Susan Gene Clifford, Aerospace Corp., El Segundo, Cal.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top customer reviews
Which version is the truth? The real beauty of this book is being able to piece together all the recollections of the characters until "No other possibility" remains
“But Lord Bacon did not despair and claimed one instance of a fingerpost which points in one direction only allows of no other
possibility. ”—An Instance of the Fingerpost by Iain Pears, page 594
While the plot of the book revolves around a murder, the mystery is the nature of truth itself. This book is exactly in my favored genre. Historical fiction mystery.
Finally, the ending is most satisfying. I had a great time living in the world that Pears created.
Some of the great characters of the period have important speaking roles. Robert Boyle, John Locke, Robert Grove, and John Thurloe, Cromwell's spymaster, all make appearances and all are convincingly portrayed. Thurloe, Boyle and Grove, in particular, play pivotal parts in the development of the plot.
Most recent customer reviews
Should be read by all who love England and find history interesting. Well worth the time and thought but maybe not for the beach.