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41 of 41 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Compelling combination of history and mystery
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...
Published on 18 Jun 2003

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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Three stars..no..two!...dammit...three!
What a feat. What an accomplishment! I've just waded my way through Iain Pears' Instance of the Fingerpost and those sentiments are the only way I can describe the feeling of my having got though it. Many were the times I came close to putting this book on the dusty pile of my literary outcasts (in fact there is only one other - 100 days of solitude - but that's another...
Published on 29 Sep 2010 by eztigrrrr


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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. Whilst the conflicting descriptions of the course of events are as skilfully handled as the voices which relate them, I did not find the plot as genuinely 'unputdownable' as other reviewers have maintained. The conclusion, with its inevitable twist, is a bold attempt to resolve the mystery surrounding the discrepancy between accounts, but ultimately evokes a curiously mixed sense of incredulity and dissatisfaction. As spectacular as the setting and the narratives may be, it is this unsatisfactory ending which remains in the reader's mind, a crying shame when much of the novel which preceded the 'instance of the fingerpost' was so utterly exemplary.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Simply Fantastic, 13 Oct 2005
By 
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
5.0 out of 5 stars An absolutely wonderful book. i couldn't stop reading it., 26 Oct 1999
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
5.0 out of 5 stars "Instances of the Fingerpost shew the true, inviolable Way.", 17 Nov 2005
By 
Mary Whipple (New England) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (TOP 100 REVIEWER)   
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.
As each man tells his story plausibly, all using the same basic information, the complexity of the mystery increases, since the four men individually do not know all the facts, and the reader does not know which of these men can be considered reliable narrators. Pears develops these characters through fine period detail, depicting both the world in which Sarah Blundy and her mother have lived and the relationships and conflicts among the narrators. The period comes to life with all its harshness and betrayals, and as the reader tries to ascertain who it is who has killed Dr. Grove, the universal question of truth and how to find it becomes an overwhelming issue.
A complex mystery, an intricate historical novel which reveals the tumult of the period, and a study of intriguing characters (some of whom, such as Wallis, Wood, and Boyle actually existed), the novel is challenging and stimulating. Ultimately it satisfies on all levels, a big book with big ideas and a big conclusion. Mary Whipple
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Three stars..no..two!...dammit...three!, 29 Sep 2010
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What a feat. What an accomplishment! I've just waded my way through Iain Pears' Instance of the Fingerpost and those sentiments are the only way I can describe the feeling of my having got though it. Many were the times I came close to putting this book on the dusty pile of my literary outcasts (in fact there is only one other - 100 days of solitude - but that's another story) but something kept me reading and the last part of the four stories very much made up for it....thankfully. This is an intricate, layered, heavy and often tedious story. No matter what some of the other readers have alluded to - make no mistake - this is not a light breezy read and you will not (I repeat NOT!) be reading it by torchlight under your bedcovers. But - if you start - don't give up. You may well feel like quietly putting the book in the oxfam pile after the first part; you may feel like throwing the book off a balcony or tearing it up in a frenzy after the second; and the third might help you off to sleep....but the fourth culminates these parts into a wonderful tale and - in addition - the writing and effort that have gone into this book really are exceptional. If you haven't bought this book yet - think wisely before you embark. If you have - keep at it.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An inventive and absorbing masterpiece, 9 Feb 2001
By A Customer
Pear's "Fingerpost" is one of the best reads of the year (2000), on a different plain to his lighter detective stuff. There is a fascinating history lesson buried in among the red herrings with famous 17th Century "enlightened" scientists playing bit parts to give the whodunnit a rich and dense backdrop. The murder is solved by four different players in turn - each successive explanation contradicts the previous "truths", undermines the credibility of the previous narrator and really challenges the accuracy of historical perspectives in general. A dark theme but Pears has great fun and is in playful form. There is comedy, intrigue, romance, philosophy and a host of good characters - spies, scholars, madmen, medics, revolutionaries and clerics and the period atmosphere is excellent. A Pandora's Box of a book to get lost in, constantly challenging and well paced. A sort of Restoration Le Carre. If you like this you'll enjoy Eco's "Name of the Rose", or Charles Palliser's "Unburied" and "Quincunx".
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An instant hit, 21 Nov 2011
Catching and holding my imagination immediately this quickly became one of my favourite ever books.

The same story told four times but each time with a twist revealing a bit more of the truth provides the basis for this historical novel. The clever way that actual historical characters are wound into it adds to the interest. The mindsets of a complex period in the 17th century are explored from different angles and the surprises are worth waiting for.

It is not a quick read but one to take your time over and savour. A complete pleasure to read.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Buy it, you won't be disappointed, 26 Oct 2000
One of the best books I've ever read. It's not just a murder myster but about the enlightnenment of human minds as well. Even Pears' device of multiple narratives of the same event is not new, ( famous example is the Japanese story called ''Rashomon'') , Pears show he can master it very skillfully. Knowing a bit of 17th-Century Britain helps but if you don't you will enjoy it anyway. Twists and turns are very unpredictable and probable. If you read the comments for deciding to part with your money. I'd say this book worth every penny you pay for it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Facinating but too longwinded, 6 May 2014
By 
Jan Patrik SahlstrÝm (Oslo, Norway) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
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. With each telling we get to know more about what really happened. Well written and filled to the brim with historical details, the plot is excellent, the main characters facinating, the only problem is that the book is a bit longwinded.Mr Pears is eager to show off his wast knowledge of the period and is in places on the verge of boring the reader into giving up, but it is worth perservering as the book has a solid ending and can be highly recommended!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the greats, 30 Jan 2011
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The first time a read this book was several years ago a german edition and I fell in love with it instantly. The way Ian manages to guide the reader through the various different viewpoints of the same story and he manages to realisticaly create different perceptions of the same personas is amazing. Having read the book again, this time in english I truly believe that this is a book that will stand the test of time and for me will be one of the classic pieces of literatur. Espcially in times where we are overrun by halfhearted, badly researched mainstream literatur, starting from teenage vampires to albino monks looking for clues in da vinci's mona lisa...
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An Instance of the Fingerpost
An Instance of the Fingerpost by Iain Pears (Hardcover - 4 Sep 1997)
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