An Instance of the Fingerpost by Iain Pears

An Instance of the Fingerpost


Iain Pears

Back Cover: "It is 1663 and England is wracked with intrigue and civil strife.  When an Oxford don is murdered, it seems at first that the incident can have nothing to do with great matters of church and state.  Who poured the arsenic into the victim's brandy?  The evidence points to Sarah Blundy, a servant girl...She confesses to the crime and is sentenced to be hanged."

An Instance of the Fingerpost is a standalone novel by Iain Pears, author of the Flavia di Stefano Mystery Series.  I was introduced to Pears books a couple years back when was asked to review Stone's Fall.  I enjoyed it and have since acquired several of his Stefano mysteries, plus this book.  I finally decided to dive in and read it for Fall Reading Challenge.

It is an intriguing historical fiction novel,  a bit long winded at 752 pages, but it's that long for a reason. The story takes place in 1663 in Oxford, England and is told in 4 different stages, each stage narrated by a different man in first person point of view.  Each man different as well as arrogant and attempting to tell the story their way.  You are never quite sure whose telling the truth. First there is Marco da Cola, a young Italian doctor, then Jack Prestcott, who doesn't believe his father is a traitor and is trying to clear his name, mathematician Dr. John Wallis. Lastly Anthony Wood, an antiquarian - student of history. The story is full of history, archaic medical theories, religious persecution, political intrigue and deceit.  It's quite convoluted and complex and not an easy read, but it will capture your interest detailing 1600's science and medical practices and the politics of the age.  

Pages:  752
Publisher:  Berkley Books
Released:  March 1, 1999
Source: Personal Copy

"When in a search of any nature the understand 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


  1. I have had this book on my shelf for the longest time, and haven't yet read it. It sounds like it would be something I would really enjoy though, so I will have to pull it out and add it to my stack. I am glad that you enjoyed it, and you wrote a great review on it!

  2. I'm having a hard time getting back in the reading groove so anything that's too convoluted would be hard for me to keep up with.

  3. I've read a few of Pears' art history mysteries and he's a very good writer. I've never thought about trying this one, though.

  4. I keep meaning to read Pears. I have a few of his novels and I'm not sure why I don't read them. This sounds so perfect for me -- I like the time period and I like the idea that you can never be sure who's telling the truth.


Unfortunately due to being spammed, all comments will be moderated and will appear after approval. At least I'm not using the dreaded captcha. Thank you for dropping by!