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An Instance of the Fingerpost by Iain Pears

An Instance of the Fingerpost (1997)

by Iain Pears

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
3,8801001,327 (3.94)214
  1. 170
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    Ex-Libris by Ross King (amyblue)
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    The Athenian Murders by José Carlos Somoza (Booksloth)
  6. 30
    Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (souci)
    souci: A look at the machinations behind the throne as England passes out of placid Catholicism moving fitfully and violently towards Protestantism.
  7. 20
    The Unburied by Charles Palliser (Booksloth)
  8. 01
    Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson (ehines)
    ehines: Both interesting contemporary books set amidst the scientific enlightenment, Pears is a bit more historical where Stephenson is more flashily contemporary, but fans of one certainly should look at the other.

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» See also 214 mentions

English (96)  Spanish (2)  French (2)  German (1)  Swedish (1)  All languages (102)
Showing 1-5 of 96 (next | show all)
One story told from four different points of view. The first and the fourth were very entertaining, but the second (OK) and the third (godawful) were tedious. I liked the concept of designing a murder mystery that can be dropped into historical context -- nice mix of fact and fiction. ( )
  AliceAnna | Oct 21, 2014 |
Lots of fun ( )
  lucypick | Sep 23, 2014 |
The book frustrated me for about two thirds of the way but then finally it all fell into place. I hadn't come across a book before written from the perspective of unreliable narrators which is quite interesting. I do like a good long book too but I think this could have had about 100 pages removed from the middle of it and the account by the second narrator Jack Prestcott became a little tedious for my liking.

The majority of the characters in the book are based on factual historical figures and two are even narrators Pears manages to use factual figures in a way that make them remain believable rather than sensationalised through too much conjecture. ( )
  pcollins | Jul 27, 2014 |
Not all the parts of this novel seem to work, but it is full of interesting stuff, and in the end the good far outweighs the faulty and superfluous. A fine mystery novel set amidst the scientific enlightenment. Perhaps of interest to readers of Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle . . . this is a bit more serious a novel--more serious about the setting, for instance--but deals with a lot of the same issues and personality types. ( )
  ehines | Jul 7, 2014 |
My older brother used to work for the local NPR affiliate, and he'd often bring home copies of books brought to the station by an author there to be interviewed, or sent there by a publisher. That's how I happened upon an advanced reading copy of this book, and I'm glad I did.

First off, it's a fascinating murder mystery told in a Rashomon-like manner, with a number of perhaps reliable, perhaps unreliable witnesses providing first-person narrative. Next, it's a fascinating history of seventeenth-century England as seen from the cloistered environment of Oxford University, peopled by a series of historical figures brought back to life by the deft touch of the author.

Finally, it's an almost Sherlock Holmesian whodunit, with methods of science and logic being used to solve the case, reflective of a civilization leaving superstition and religious dogma behind and rushing headlong into the age of enlightenment.

While I recognize that the changing viewpoints are probably not for everyone, I compare this book favorably to another of my favorites, The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett, in that they're both sprawling epics that bring to life specific times and places in the past. I suspect that if you liked that one, you'll like this one as well. ( )
  BrendanPMyers | Jun 23, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 96 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (3 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Iain Pearsprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Ambrosini, RichardTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Biličić, DamirTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Čhaturongkhawāni… Thanatwō̜nTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Engen, BodilTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gračanin, MartinaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gurovoj, I.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Jakovlev, BožicaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Johansen, KnutTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Khup, NālanthāTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kim, Sŏk-hŭiTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lindenburg, MiekeTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lundborg, GunillaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mader, FriedrichTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Máximo, Maria AliceTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Martoccia, MaríaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Petecka-Jurek, KatarzynaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Petersen, Arne HerløvTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Radevic-Stojiljkovic… BranislavaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sabljak, AnaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sarotte, Georges-MichelTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Tutino, AlfredoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Verduin, VictorTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ṿais, BoʻazTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Walter, EdithTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Historia vero testis temporum, lux veritatis, vita memoriae, magistra vitae.

(History is the witness of the times, the light of truth, the life of memory, the mistress of life.)
             Cicero, De Oratore
A Question of Precedence

There are idols which we call Idols of the Market. For Men associate by Discourse, and a false and improper Imposition of Words strangely possesses the Understanding, for Words absolutely force the Understanding, and put all Things into Confusion.
— Francis Bacon,
Novum Organum Scientarum, Section II,
Aphorism VI
An Instance of the Fingerpost

When in a Search of any Nature the Understanding stands suspended, then instances of the Fingerpost shew the true and inviolable Way in which the Question is to be decided. These Instances afford great Light, so that the Course of the Investigation will sometimes be terminated by them. Sometimes, indeed, these Instances are found amongst that Evidence already set down.>— Francis Bacon,
Novum Organum Scientarum, Section XXXVI,
Aphorism XXI
To Ruth
First words
Marco da Cola, gentleman of Venice, respectfully presents his greetings. I wish to recount the journey which I made to England in the year 1663, the events which I witnessed and the people I met, these being, I hope,of some interest to those concerned with curiosity. Equally I intend my account to expose the lies told by those whom I once numbered, wrongly, amongst my friends.
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Book description
We are in England in the 1660s. Charles II has been restored to the throne following years of civil war and Oliver Cromwell's short-lived republic. Oxford is the intellectual seat of the country, a place of great scientific, religious, and political ferment. A fellow of New College is found dead in suspicious circumstances. A young woman is accused of his murder. We hear the story of the death from four witnesses; an Italian physician intent on claiming credit for the invention of blood transfusion; the son of an alleged Royalist traitor; a master cryptographer who has worked for both Cromwell and the king; and a renowned Oxford antiquarian. Each tells his own version of what happened. Only one reveals the extraordinary truth. (1-57322-082-5)
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0425167720, Mass Market Paperback)

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.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:42:25 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

When a fellow of New College in seventeenth-century Oxford is found dead and a young woman is accused of his murder, four witnesses, each with his own agenda, tell what they saw, but only one speaks the truth.

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