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An Instance Of The Fingerpost [Paperback]

Iain Pears
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (80 customer reviews)
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Book Description

3 Sep 1998

Set in Oxford in the 1660s - a time and place of great intellectual, religious, scientific and political ferment - this remarkable novel centres around a young woman, Sarah Blundy, who stands accused of the murder of Robert Grove, a fellow of New College. Four witnesses describe the events surrounding his death: Marco da Cola, a Venetian Catholic intent on claiming credit for the invention of blood transfusion;Jack Prescott, the son of a supposed traitor to the Royalist cause, determined to vindicate his father; John Wallis, chief cryptographer to both Cromwell and Charles II, a mathematician, theologian and master spy; and Anthony Wood, the famous Oxford antiquary.

Each one tells their version of what happened but only one reveals the extraordinary truth. Brilliantly written, utterly convincing, gripping from the first page to the last, An Instance of the Fingerpost is a magnificent tour de force.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 704 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; New Ed edition (3 Sep 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 009975181X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099751816
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 3.5 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (80 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 60,861 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Iain Pears was born in 1955. He is the author of seven detective novels, a book of art history and countless articles on artistic, financial and historical subjects, and three novels, An Instance of the Fingerpost, The Dream of Scipio and The Portrait.

Product Description

Amazon Review

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.


`Crammed with period detail, it's as much a novel of ideas as it is of character' --The Week

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
41 of 41 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Compelling combination of history and mystery 18 Jun 2003
By A Customer
In setting his novel in Oxford during the 1660s, a period of considerable political ferment, Pears has created the ideal backdrop for a lengthy but highly enjoyable novel which combines the best traditions of intellectual scholarship and a plot with real drive. The murder of Dr Robert Grove, a fellow of New College, and the events surrounding it are narrated from four significantly different points of view; Marco da Cola, a Venetian Catholic doctor newly arrived in Britain; Jack Prescott, son of a Royalist traitor and desperate to clear his beloved father's name; John Wallis, one of the mathematical giants whose shoulders bore Newton and a cryptographer to the courts of both Cromwell and Charles II; and Anthony Wood, an antiquary. All of these narratives, whilst necessarily differing in terms of fact, are also clearly defined voices without being caricatured, and the novel is suffused with characters of real depth, whether historical or fictitious, such as prime suspect Sarah Blundy, daughter of a religious dissenter, her mother, and the likes of Lower, Locke, Grove and Boyle.
The main character in the novel, however, is historical Oxford itself. As easy as it is to take this depiction for granted, the consistent references to actual historical figures and contemporary developments in medicine and fashion, as well as the acute observation of the social mores and deep-seated insecurity at the time of the Restoration are, on reflection, simply breathtaking: the depth of Pears' research is astonishing, and never intrudes on the development of the plot.
It is the plot, however, which slightly depreciates the five-star status the backdrop to this novel unquestionably demands.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Simply Fantastic 13 Oct 2005
Where to start?
I suppose the most engaging aspect of this novel is the ability of Pear's characters to utterly and truly bring you in to who and what they are.
I found myself understanding why they acted as they did, why they saw events in a certain light despite being contradicted by others and even developing a bias for them!
The plot clicks nicely in to place with 'the instance of the fingerpost', Bacon's term for the true account. The revelation in the final part of the story touches, for me, the heart. It caused me to think when i read it and i still find myself thinking over what happened even now.
From da Cola's concealment, through Prescott's madness, Wallis' darkness and eventually Wood's love, this novel is a tour de force of how it should be done - a mixture of knowledge, witty observations, humour and how love and hatred can create two entirely different opinions from a shared incident.
Highly recommended.
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
I have never read another book quite like this one. It's a big book-yet i read it all in less than three days. i couldn't put it down. Set in the time of the Restoration of Charles II in England, it lyrically blends fact and fiction into a harmonious whole. It does something i've never seen done before in such depth and richness-it takes the viewpoints of four different people about a single happening, and blends them together. Each person adds new facts, so that the reader gradually begins to see the whole picture clearly. And each voice,each new character, seems to come from a different author. It really is as though four different personalities are telling the story. And there is a twist at the end that actually gave me goosebumps. My recommendation is to read this book-now. I haven't read anything this good in years.
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25 of 28 people found the following review helpful
Oxford in 1663, just after the restoration of Charles II to the throne, was the intellectual center of England. The country was in ferment after eleven years of rule by Oliver Cromwell and a devastating civil war, and disagreements and passions ran high. Conflicts in religious dogma ranged from the Puritanism of Cromwell to the Church of England, Quakerism, and Catholicism. Political conflicts were obviously connected with the religious conflicts, and intellectual, scientific, and philosophical investigations were calling many long-held beliefs into question.
It is in this turbulent Oxford milieu that Dr. Robert Grove is found dead in his chambers--his servant, Sarah Blundy thought to have murdered him with poison. Sarah, the daughter of a rebel whose whereabouts are unknown, lives with her mother in poor circumstances, barely staying alive, yet they are visited during the mother's final days by important people.
Four men tell the story of Grove's murder, and each explains his own connection, if any, with Sarah and her family. Marco da Cola, a physician from Venice, has come to London to check on his father's mercantile interests but responds to her pleas for help for her seriously injured mother. Jack Prestcott, the son of a man labeled a traitor, is trying to rehabilitate his father's reputation and regain his land. Dr. John Wallis, a mathematician, is also a cryptographer who has worked both for Cromwell and now King Charles II. And Anthony Wood, a young Oxford historian, has employed Sarah in his mother's house and recommended her to Dr. Grove.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars I'm a tough critic - great book
I rarely give more than 4 *s unless it's Dostoevsky, Conrad, Joyce, Faulkner, Pynchon, etc. This was excellent - entertaining, informative, well-written, original. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Andrew Ballard
4.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant, but...
This is a fantastic book ,in the end, with a twist ending and engaging plot. However there are some floors to the book one being the extra knowledge that is added into this which... Read more
Published 3 months ago by Florence Langley
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, Informative, Surprising and Beguiling
A very individual book. It is a fascinating insight into a relatively little popularly known period of history, hugely informative about the history of medicine and the religious... Read more
Published 5 months ago by judyB
4.0 out of 5 stars Facinating but too longwinded
This is a facinating book about a murder mystery in late 17th century England. The tale is told four times, with four different points of view. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Jan Patrik Sahlstrøm
5.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating and absorbing thriller, it will surprise you
Atmospheric, and historically dense, but gripping as a modern thriller, this book also raises large questions . Well worth reading
Published 6 months ago by Nina Bain
5.0 out of 5 stars Incredible book
A good read, very gripping which keeps you wondering till the very end. It is a most unusualy way of constructing a story so a change and something different. Give it a try.
Published 8 months ago by Mrs. V. A. Tyler
5.0 out of 5 stars A classic
This is a classic historical mystery novel based in Oxford. With the different viewpoints, the characters are drawn in minute detail but, be warned, it is a long book.
Published 11 months ago by Nick
5.0 out of 5 stars Fingerpost
I suspect 4.5 is where i would really put this. Cleverly written. Same story looked through the eyes of different people with a sort of truth unravelling as we go along. Read more
Published 12 months ago by Lawman
4.0 out of 5 stars An instance of the finger post
Bought this book on recomendation of a friend. Not really my type but was pleasantly surprised with it. It is an interesting read and well worth getting.
Published 20 months ago by nemisis
5.0 out of 5 stars A Very Rare Gem
This is one of those very rare books I would wholeheratedly recommend to anyone with more than half a brain. Read more
Published 20 months ago by An Avid Reader
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