An Instance of the Fingerpost
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating

An Instance of the Fingerpost

3.91 of 5 stars 3.91  ·  rating details  ·  14,001 ratings  ·  805 reviews
A national bestseller and one of theNew York Public Library's Books to Remember, An Instance of the Fingerpost is a thrilling historical mystery from Iain Pears.

"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....Yet, little...more
Paperback, 704 pages
Published April 1st 2000 by Riverhead Trade (first published 1997)
more details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about An Instance of the Fingerpost, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about An Instance of the Fingerpost

The Name of the Rose by Umberto EcoThe Alienist by Caleb CarrThe Historian by Elizabeth KostovaThe Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz ZafónMistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin
Best Historical Mystery
12th out of 964 books — 2,371 voters
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg LarssonAnd Then There Were None by Agatha ChristieAngels & Demons by Dan BrownRebecca by Daphne du MaurierIn Cold Blood by Truman Capote
Best Crime & Mystery Books
96th out of 4,387 books — 10,045 voters

More lists with this book...

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  rating details
Jeffrey Keeten
”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

 photo OliverCromwell_zps5a3a74d5.jpg
Oliver Cromwell, not really relevant to this book exce...more
Aug 21, 2007 Chris rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: anyone with a brain
Still one of the best books I've ever read, this has something for everyone. It's a mystery, it's history, it's science, it's drama, it's amazing. It's really long too, but that just makes it better- by the time you finish it you'll be sorry it wasn't longer.
What sticks in my mind about this book is being consumed with fury for 1/4th of it--and then having the following conclusion be the greatest revenge. A really excellent novel with some very unreliable narrators and detailed characterization. I was amazed at how everything fit together by the end.
Jul 13, 2013 Sue rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: all readers of historical fiction
A "novel" novel (please pardon the attempted humor), where unreliable narrators outnumber purported reliability by a long shot. Once again my happiness at not living in the 17th century is validated as I read of the physical squalor, the political and religious unrest and distrust in England after the restoration of Charles II, the relative worthlessness of the average person's life. Amidst that there is the glimmer of new knowledge and education at Oxford the seat of "Instance".

Along with the...more
This is one of the few books that I felt compelled to start immediately again, from page one, after reaching the end -- even though it has close to 700 pages.

The story of this thriller is retold, in succession, by four different people. One of them lies and not until the very end does the reader know who is falsifying the story. And that is why I wanted to read it again: to pay attention to the structure and to how the story is woven by different points of view, and see where the liar has fabric...more
Apr 30, 2007 Scott rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: historical fiction and mystery lovers
Shelves: fiction
A story told in four sections, each told in the first person by a different character, and set in England during the Reformation, this is a gripping tale and intriguing mystery. What you think the story is about after reading the first section mutates and evolves to a quite surprising ending. If you like mystery, beautiful prose, and fascinating characters, pick this up. You won't easily be able to put it down.
May 15, 2008 Leif rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: folks who haven't gotten into historical fiction yet
Shelves: mystery
This mystery, set in England around 1660, is described four times -- once each from the perspectives of four characters, some based on real personalities and others fictitious. The biases, motives, and flaws of the narrators are compelling, to be sure, but what really makes this book click is Pears' thorough understanding of the time, place, and cultural flow in which the story reveals itself.

The measured revelation -- and eventual closure -- of what ends up being a complex event, initially disg...more
Uses multiple narrators to tell the story, each one revealing a bit more of the truth, which is intriguing. The only problem is the book is tedious and the payoff is not worth the ride.
Jun 12, 2007 Brooke rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: fans of intellectual thrillers
Shelves: own, mystery
An Instance of the Fingerpost had been on my radar for quite some time before I actually picked it up. It's a critically acclaimed murder mystery that takes place in England right after Cromwell's death and the king's return to the throne (as is the current book I'm reading - I'm not too sure how that happened!). The book is divided into four parts, each part narrated by a different character. The premise is that different people can all see one event and take completely different things from it...more
Dec 11, 2008 Mike rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: anyone who loves reading, especially historical fiction
Recommended to Mike by: Dr. Marti Head
This is one of the most well-crafted, meticulously written, daring, busy, fun, and intriguing books I've ever read. It combines shifting points of view, murder, early experiments with blood transfusion, international intrigue, hidden identities, the Restoration and Catholic/Protestant politics, and insanity into a rollicking, erudite, challenging, and delightful read. You'll be amazed at the audacity of the author as he begins his high-wire act, and you'll be even more amazed and gratified when...more
I loved, loved, loved this book.
Feb 15, 2008 Jamie rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: anyone who wants to see how good fiction can be.
This is still the gold standard of all historical fiction for me. I've tried to find its equal and haven't come up with it. The four contemporary accountings of the same events, the disagreement between the various witnesses, the lofty intellectual language, the extensive historical accuracy of the period and location... this is just what great historical fiction is supposed to be. I've read several of this author's other works now and they're all good, but this is simply that much better. Fasci...more
This is a good book, don't let the measly three stars tell you any differently. The author juggles the contrasting views of the unreliable narrators with veritable finesse, so the solution to the mystery isn't revealed till the very last pages. However, I do not like unreliable narrators, especially those that largely treat anyone that isn't an affluent man with outright disrespect. So, this was very well-written; I just spent too much time being pissed at the narrators to be bothered to give a...more
well, I guess it's sort of read.

I mean, I read as damn much as I could. which was roughly 1/3. it was going nowhere, and honestly, I didn't find it compelling enough to move much further. there's a sort of mystery I couldn't really get into, and there's regular (and, at the end of the book, carefully cited) appearances by british scientists and philosophers of the period, but there was nothing that actually made me want to pay attention. I didn't care about the characters or their progress.
Iain Pears was recommended to me by a highly intelligent academic I know, someone whose opinion I respect when it comes to the intellectual. So I guess it fits that I find his books to be high quality fiction that's excellent and sometimes just a little above my head.

I actually liked An Instance of the Fingerpost even better than the previous Iain Pears book I read, Stone's Fall, which I also found enjoyable and impressive and just a bit beyond me at times but not to the point where I couldn't a...more
Pears offers an historical fiction set in 1663, primarily in the university town, Oxford. For the last few decades, the residents of Oxford (as well as many of the subjects throughout England) are wrestling over questions of religion, politics, and science. Yes, there is a murder to be solved, but there are multiple mysteries within the novel: What is each character's true politics? (Royalist or Cromwell sympathizer?) What is each character's true religious affiliation (Anglican, Catholic, Anaba...more
Luke Goldstein
Apr 05, 2007 Luke Goldstein rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Victorian fans
I found this book a tad slow in the beginning, but as you move along you'll find that the world created within is incredible in its detail. The main shock came somewhere around page 180 (this isn't a spoiler, don't worry) when the story being told came to an end. I wondered if 420 pages of epilogue was a little overdone, but i found that the book is actually broken into four parts with four different characters telling their versions of the same series of events. The pieces slowly come together...more
Jul 24, 2009 Wendy rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommended to Wendy by: Wanda!
Shelves: 2009-reads
I enjoyed the idea of this book - a "murder mystery" told from the viewpoint of 4 different characters. I wanted to give this book 3.5 stars though. I sort of got lost in all the historical times not knowing who was on whose side! I guess I'm just not that familiar with the political and religious background of this time and it tripped me up a lot while reading this book.

If all the men were like the characters in this book, then I'm glad I didn't live in that time period! The 2 q...more
Jul 15, 2007 Slayde rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Historical fiction fanatics
Shelves: summer2007
An interesting concept, meticulously executed...but it didn't work well for me. The book is split between four narrators, each describing essentially the same set of events from his own perspective. The storyline is relatively interesting, particularly towards the end. But I didn't find any of the four narrators to be particularly compelling and the story ended up feeling slow and disjointed. Also, perhaps due to the book's structure, the revelation felt anticlimactic when it finally arrived. Fi...more
The conceit of this book -- 4 different narrators each telling his version of the same set of events -- was novel and well-executed, and the rendering of Restoration England was obviously well-researched. However, the story dragged at times as a result of the detailed explorations of 17th-century politics and mannerisms. I would recommend this only to a those with a serious interest in historical fiction.
Tim Youker
Jul 07, 2009 Tim Youker rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Dabblers in English history and early modern lit.
Imagine a cross between "Rashomon" and the Diary of Samuel Pepys, with a dash of Umberto Eco, and you'll have some idea of what this book is like. It's by no means perfect (the identity of the killer is actually revealed with over a hundred pages left to go), but it's still an engrossing read, and a fine use the unreliable narrator device.
Danger Kallisti
Feb 12, 2008 Danger Kallisti added it
Recommends it for: desperate historical fiction fans
Shelves: crap-just-crap
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Matt Brady
A fantastic story of deception and delusion in Reformation England. Concerning an eventful few months in Oxford in 1663, as told in epistolary form by four men; Marco de Cola, an amateur physician and son of a wealthy Venetian merchant; Jack Prescott, a young lawyer-in-training determined to clear the name of his traitor father; John Wallis, famed mathematician and cryptographer; and Anthony Wood, an aspiring historian with a deep love of books.

My only criticism is the slow start, but in retrosp...more
Barry King
This was an extraordinary book, and very modern in its antiquity. What do I mean? It's the fact that this is four unreliable narrators describing events surrounding a presumed murder. Each of them inserts, omits, misunderstands, or simply invents details. An interesting complication to this narration is that each has read the previous version and chooses to re-interpret or set aright the previous narrator's version of events. In this way it is ultra-modern in style, practically an essay in postm...more
Kirsty Darbyshire

The opinions I've come across on this book are divided pretty evenly between 'couldn't read it' and 'absolutely loved it' - no one seems to end up on the middle ground. I thought the lack of averageness was as good a reason to read it as any, and besides, it sounded fascinatingly different from the mysteries I generally devour.

The story is divided into four separate narratives; each detailing some of the same events from another point of view, each adding to and changing the reader's idea of wh

Dennis D.
Aug 30, 2013 Dennis D. rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommended to Dennis D. by: Barb the librarian!
Someone asked me what this novel was about as I was reading the last few pages, and I hesitated before I could formulate an answer. It’s not ambiguous or dense, but it took me a moment to realize that I’d be hard-pressed to summarize An Instance of the Fingerpost in just a couple of sentences.

It’s written in four sections, each from the first person perspective of four different characters. All of the stories are set in roughly the same time and place: Oxford, England in the early 1660s, shortl...more
Steve Auerweck
I doubt I would have chosen this book had I not been so impressed by Iain Pears' more recent novel, "Stone's Fall." A murder mystery in the 1600s? And told from four different viewpoints, no less? Kind of daunting. But it turned out to be totally engrossing and suspenseful. Pears' genius and erudition shines out from this novel like a Klieg light. One thing that's astounding is that the majority of the characters are real 17th-century figures, portrayed fairly accurately based on my frequent vis...more
The first thing I should have done is look up the word "fingerpost", because through most of the book I wondered what that meant and kept looking for a reference to satisfy my curiosity. Turns out it is a veddy British term, meaning a sign with a pointy end, like a pointing finger. Like this: Really, I should have looked this up first because it has so little bearing on the story and it kept bugging me like that little mosquito bite you can't scratch because that just makes the itch worse.

A fingerpost is an English road sign with multiple arms, each sometimes ending in a finger, pointing in different directions. I learned this tidy fact, along with some history, on the Internet while reading Iain Pears' ingeniously-crafted mystery/historical novel, An Instance of the Fingerpost. Ordinarily, i don't read historical fiction but I was hooked by the idea of four unreliable narrators each giving an account of the events surrounding a death, in this case that of an Oxford scholar in 16...more
I love this book, it's a sort of creepy confusing and fascinating tale set in a sort of filthy ancient England. Great mystery, told from multiple points of view. Best of all, it introduced me to the work of Pears, who also is author of a really terrific series of modern day art history mysteries.

Merged review:

Great book, but confusing. But it's interesting enough that at some point I might read it again. This is the most ambitious outing yet from Pears, who also has a series of excellent mystery...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 99 100 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • The Quincunx
  • A Conspiracy of Paper (Benjamin Weaver, #1)
  • The American Boy
  • Dissolution (Matthew Shardlake, #1)
  • A Conspiracy of Violence (Thomas Chaloner, #1)
  • Lemprière's Dictionary
  • The Wolves of Savernake (Domesday, #1)
  • Firedrake's Eye (David Becket and Simon Ames, #1)
  • The Music of the Spheres
  • The Pale Blue Eye
  • Morality Play
  • The Trial of Elizabeth Cree, or Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem
  • The Flanders Panel
  • Ex-Libris
  • Whom the Gods Love (Julian Kestrel Mysteries, #3)
  • Blind Justice (Sir John Fielding, #1)
  • The Daughter of Time (Inspector Alan Grant #5)
Iain Pears is an English art historian, novelist and journalist. He was educated at Warwick School, Warwick, Wadham College and Wolfson College, Oxford. Before writing, he worked as a reporter for the BBC, Channel 4 (UK) and ZDF (Germany) and correspondent for Reuters from 1982 to 1990 in Italy, France, UK and US. In 1987 he became a Getty Fellow in the Arts and Humanities at Yale University. His...more
More about Iain Pears...
Stone's Fall The Dream of Scipio The Raphael Affair (Jonathan Argyll, #1) The Portrait The Titian Committee (Jonathan Argyll, #2)

Share This Book

“In my small way, I preserved and catalogued, and dipped into the vast ocean of learning that awaited, knowing all the time that the life of one man was insufficient for even the smallest part of the wonders that lay within. It is cruel that we are granted the desire to know, but denied the time to do so properly. We all die frustrated; it is the greatest lesson we have to learn.” 8 likes
“The devil himself can become beauty, so we are told, to corrupt mankind."
More quotes…