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An Instance of the Fingerpost

An Instance of the Fingerpost - Iain Pears

bookshelves: historical-fiction, mystery-thriller, re-read, britain-england, books-with-a-passport, published-1997, restoration

Read in May, 2009

** spoiler alert ** "The worst thing about new books is that they keep us from reading the old ones."
— Joseph Joubert

The Rashomon Effect at play

the opening:
Marco da Cola, gentleman of Venice, respectfully presents his greetings.



Page 11 [...:] a more foolish notion can hardly be imagined, it being obvious that the reader is only informed of what the writer wishes him to know, and is thus seduced into believing almost anything.


John Locke


John Thurloe


Christopher Wren


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The Sealed Knot


Pierre de Fermat


The Fifth Monarchists were a group of believers in a geopolitical theory which maintained that four other world rulers had already come and gone according to the prophecies of the biblical Book of Daniel (2:44). This text recounts a prophetic dream by Nebuchadnezzar, in which the previous empires had been Assyrian; Persian; Grecian and Roman, The last empire, they concluded, would be established by the returning Jesus as King of kings and Lord of lords to reign with his saints on earth for a thousand years. The Fifth Monarchists saw themselves as those saints of that soon to be dawning millennium.


Edward Hyde, 1st Earl of Clarendon


Horatius Cocles, by Hendrick Goltzius

Review with spoiler

The passion and resurrection of a Leveller Messiah set against a backdrop of intrigue and callousness that epitomised the England of that era, and taking up the rumour that Charles II converted to Catholicism on his death bed.


We are in Oxford in the 1660s - a time, and place, of great intellectual, scientific, religious and political ferment. Robert Grove, a fellow of New College is found dead in suspicious circumstances. A young woman is accused of his murder. We hear about the events surrounding his death from four witnesses: 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, theologican and inveterate plotter; and Anthony Wood, the famous Oxford antiquary. Each witness tells their version of what happened. Only one reveals the extraordinary truth.

An Instance of the Fingerpost is a magnificent tour de force: an utterly compelling historical mystery story with a plot that twists and turns and keeps the reader guessing until the very last page.