Lust, betrayal, secrets, murder... Brilliantly written, utterly convincing, gripping from the first page to the last, An Instance of the Fingerpost is a magnificent tour de force.
Iain Pears was born in Coventry in 1955. Educated at Wadham College, Oxford, he has worked as a journalist, an art historian and a television consultant. He is the author of several highly praised detective novels, a book of art history, countless articles on artistic, financial and historical subjects, and The Dream of Scipio and Stone's Fall.
Writing a murder mystery set in 17th-century Oxford has done wonders for art historian Pears, already the author of several mysteries; rights have been sold for a bundle in seven countries, and a review of the British edition in an international issue of Newsweek calls it a "whopping good read." A BOMC main selection.
This massive, delightfully titled literary thriller (it's a quote from Sir Francis Bacon) is the kind of gamble it's great to see a publisher taking in these often timid times. The English author, responsible so far for a series of conventional mysteries, has gone back to 17th-century Oxford for an absorbing, macabre tale of murder, politics, faith and betrayal. Featured in more than incidental roles are such real-life characters as John Locke, Sir Christopher Wren, Robert Boyle, King Charles II and the Earl of Clarendon. The murder by poisoning of Robert Grove, a Fellow of New College, and the subsequent trial and execution for the crime of Sarah Blundy, daughter of a freethinking early Socialist and anti-Royalist, is the heart of the action, which is related in four separate first-person accounts, each the length of a short novel. There is Marco da Cola, a good-hearted Venetian visitor whose irritable reflections on the English are witty and betray a perfect period ear; Jack Prestcott, a fiery young lawyer devoted to proving that his father, disgraced as a traitor, was himself betrayed; John Wallis, priest, mathematician and cryptographer of genius (also a real character), whose coldly cynical schemes set off a series of dazzlingly complex political maneuvers; and bookish scholar Anthony Wood, a background figure to the rest, but whose consuming love for Sarah makes him ultimately the central actor in the drama. Pears's grasp of the thought of the time, with its scientific zeal curbed always by what seems now like excess religiosity, its ferocious plotting and counterplotting, its struggles for power and position, is sure. Though there are many digressions, most are fascinating, and the book boasts an overall narrative momentum that carries even an ill-informed contemporary reader along. There will be inevitable comparisons with the work of Umberto Eco, but it seems likely that many of those who have bought Eco's books will find Pears by far the more accessible. 80,000 first printing; $150,000 ad/promo; BOMC main selection; foreign rights sold in the U.K., Brazil, France, Germany, Greece, Holland and Italy. (Mar.)
"Anyone who reads this will want to tell their friends about it...
This is a novel that combines the simple pleasures of Agatha
Christie with the intellectual subtlety of Umberto Eco, don't let
it pass by unread" * Sunday Times *
"A fictional tour de force which combines erudition with mystery" -- P D James
"The kind of book that has you reading it by torchlight under the bedclothes. An historical detective story set to rival The Name of the Rose, it provides the rare pleasure of combining an intricate plot with insight into the political intrigues of Restoration England" * The Times *
"Pears brings to life a vibrant 17th-century world...a tour de force" * Daily Telegraph *
"Brilliantly researched and imagined...a remarkable achievement" * Sunday Telegraph *