23 of 26 people found the following review helpful
"Instances of the Fingerpost shew the true, inviolable Way.",
This review is from: An Instance Of The Fingerpost (Paperback)
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