Summary and book reviews of An Instance of the Fingerpost by Iain Pears

An Instance of the Fingerpost

by Iain Pears

An Instance of the Fingerpost by Iain Pears
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  • First Published:
    Mar 1998, 691 pages
    Paperback:
    Mar 1999, 735 pages

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Book Summary

An ingenious tour de force: an utterly compelling historical mystery with a plot that twists and turns and keeps the reader guessing until the very last page.

We are in England in the 1660s. Charles II has been restored to the throne following years of civil war and 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.

With rights sold for record-breaking sums around the world, An Instance of the Fingerpost is destined to become a major international publishing event. Deserving of comparison to the works of John Fowles and Umberto Eco, Iain Pears's novel is an ingenious tour de force: an utterly compelling historical mystery with a plot that twists and turns and keeps the reader guessing until the very last page.

Chapter One
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.


I will leave out much, but nothing of significance. Much of my tour around that country was of interest only to myself, and finds no mention here. Many of those I met, similarly, were of little consequence. Those who in later years did me harm I describe as I knew them then, and I beg any reader to remember that, although I was hardly callow, I was not yet wise in the ways of the world. If my narrative appears simple and foolish, then you must conclude that the young man of so many years past was similarly so. I do not go back to my portrait to add extra layers of tint and varnish to cover my errors or the weakness of my ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. The four narrators of An Instance of the Fingerpost illustrate that there is never just one side to a story, that an event can be interpreted in a multitude of ways. As readers, however, we're conditioned to trust our narrator. Did you find one narrator inherently more trustworthy than another? What qualities suggest a credible narrator, and how does Iain Pears play off of our assumptions in his characterizations of Marco da Cola, Jack Prestcott, John Wallis, and Anthony Wood? Can you think of other books in which this multi-perspective technique was used to similar ends, or other books that feature unreliable narrators?
  2. An Instance of the Fingerpost is set in the early years of the ...
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Reviews

Media Reviews

The Sunday Times London

This is a novel that combines the simple pleasures of Agatha Christie with the intellectual subtlety of Umberto Eco. It is a landmark in the genre... Don't let it pass by unread.

Publishers Weekly

An absorbing, macabre tale of murder, politics, faith and betrayal.

Kirkus Reviews

Triumphant...Knocks every speck of dust from the historical mystery.

Author Blurb P.D. James
A fictional tour de force which combines erudition with mystery.

Reader Reviews

Paul Collins

A brilliant book! I was entranced by this superbly written detective book... I simply couldn't put it down.

Paul Penfold

This book is stunning. I will not attemt to describe what goes except to say that if you want a thriller that twists and turns and has your head in a spin look no further. Pears has unlocked a passion for reading that I was not aware of and an ...   Read More

Anonymous

A thoroughly enjoyable read. Do not cudgel your mind trying to solve it; it's not that kind of mystery novel. Just read it for the pleasure of it. The author evokes early Restoration England well while using modern language. He creates vivid ...   Read More

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