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An Instance of the Fingerpost

3.94  ·  Rating details ·  21,335 ratings  ·  1,322 reviews
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,
Paperback, 691 pages
Published April 1st 2000 by Riverhead Books (first published 1997)
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Average rating 3.94  · 
Rating details
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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 boo
Aug 21, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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.
Paul Bryant
Jan 19, 2018 rated it did not like it
Shelves: abandoned, novels
There is a murder and there is a dispossessed heir. Frankly, I couldn’t give a stuff if some shouldabeen rich young sprog got hornswoggled in the 17th century, I mean, the goodly realm of Great Britain had just been through 20 years of civil war and there was an awful lot of horns swoggled, of that you can be sure. I’d say more horns were swoggled than not swoggled. Vast estates yanked from under the noses of their rightful heirs and all of that. Who cares.

Alas, the whole plot of this very long
Jul 30, 2007 rated it really liked it
Shelves: historical
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.
Apr 27, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
Iain Pears is a Coventry-born and Oxford-educated art historian and author of historical mysteries, and An Instance of the Fingerpost is his most famous novel. Good historians are not necessarily good authors and good authors are not necessarily good historians, but in Fingerpost Pears manages to strike a comfortable balance between both professions.

An Instance of the Fingerpost is a long but involving book, which pays great attention to its historical setting and theme, but at the same time ma
Apr 16, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
Jan 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Edit Jan 2018: Added the right version of the audio book

One murder.

One young woman, Sarah Blundy, suspected to be the murderer and already found guilty by almost everyone before her trial starts.

Four men of different backgrounds who recount the events that led to the murder and beyond.

One of them is lying.

Up until now, I’ve always considered The Name of the Rose as the best historical fiction I ever read. I’m omitting the word ‘mystery’ on purpose here, as - though definitely a murder/mystery -
Jun 15, 2008 rated it did not like it
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.
Jun 16, 2008 rated it it was amazing
An extremely engaging historical novel set in 1660s Oxford, with a side trip to London. Told from four viewpoints of varying reliability, this murder mystery gets gradually revealed as the story unfolds. The murder itself is consequential only in that it serves as a device to tie the main characters together.

Mystery fans may wish to know if the novel sets out clues leading to whodunnit - but I can't help here as I did not try to solve it.

This novel wears very well upon re-reading - and may be
Jul 25, 2007 rated it did not like it
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.
Mar 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
The year was 1663. An English king had freshly mounted the throne; civil war hardly a memory behind him. Political intrigue and religious strife swept across the land, sending a rogue but heady breeze through the university town of Oxford. Four men are called upon to recollect the events of those days - a gentleman of Venice, a student, a cryptographer and an archivist. Each account builds upon the one that went before, challenging the truth and ever-complicating the circumstances surrounding th ...more
Apr 30, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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.
Girl with her Head in a Book
Historical fiction tends to gather around the Tudors and Victorians but often skirts the Stuarts. They had an awful lot of messy Civil Wars and their personalities were not what one would call attractive. Unlike writers attempting valiantly to fashion together something new from the fall of Anne Boleyn or similar, An Instance of the Fingerpost offers fresh material even for the hardened historical fiction fiend such as myself. However, even without the refreshing setting and context, Pears' nove ...more
Althea Ann
Sep 26, 2011 rated it liked it
For ages, everyone told me that ‘An Instance of the Fingerpost’ is Iain Pears’ best novel. Partly because of this I sort of ‘saved it up’ and held off on reading it for a while. (The other factor in this decision was that this book, even in paperback, weighs about 10 pounds. It’s enough to make me want a Kindle!) But, because of this expectation-of-awesomeness (and maybe a tiny smidgin because of sore wrists?) I was a little bit disappointed. This is definitely Iain Pears’ most ambitious novel – ...more
Jan 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Sometimes I like my historical fiction like a balm of gentle story and escapism and sometimes I like my historical fiction to make me think and ponder.
This novel certain falls into the latter category. A story full of mystery, intrigue and plots upon plots. I like the theme that one persons point of view is hardly ever is enough to fully explain a situation and that there is no such thing as an "objective" narrator, we are all by default unreliable. I am not sure if Pears did it deliberately, b
Jun 12, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: fans of intellectual thrillers
Shelves: 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
There's a lovely bit in the musical film "Call Me Madam", when a lyrical ballad is succeeded by a contrasting upbeat number - both good - then, miraculously they are sung at the same time, working brilliantly together (watch it here - if you're interested, but ignore Ethel Merman's over-acting). And, in AIotF, Pears carries off the same trick. Four stories - each well told, but completely different personalities and atmospheres. And then - this is the technical tour de force - they are overlaid, ...more
Nov 18, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
Dec 28, 2010 rated it liked it
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
Jul 30, 2011 rated it it was amazing
short review on 3rd read in 2015:

- after Arcadia which the author hyped as a complex novel needing an app and which to me seemed actually a simpler novel than his earlier 3 superb complex multi-layered novels (Instance of the Fingerpost, Dreams of Scipio, Stone's Fall), I decided to reread this one - as the one of the three I last read a while ago (some 10 years ago easily, maybe more) - to see if I maybe remember it wrong after all and Arcadia was indeed more sophisticated;

and it turned out th
Sam toer
Aug 14, 2010 rated it really liked it
Oxford, England, 1663 the intellectual seat of the country, a place of great scientific, religious, and political ferment. It has been more than 20 years of civil and religious upheaval. The Protector Oliver Cromwell is dead; the Levellers, Diggers and other such factions -- with their dreams of an egalitarian society-- have been destroyed or dispersed; peace, finally, has returned to a ravaged land . . . or has it? So begins Iain Pears's crafty, utterly mesmerizing intellectual thriller, An Ins ...more
Jul 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
An Oxford Don's murder coincides with the return of the monarchy to power after the collapse of Oliver Cromwell’s Protectorate in 1663. Pear's complex intermingling of fictional and historical characters captures the byzantine structure of political life during the English Restoration while his use of multiple narrators reveals the subjective nature of personal testimony and the difficulty in ascertaining the objective truth.

Rashomon-style, four narrators relate the events surrounding Robert Gr
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
Danger Kallisti
Feb 12, 2008 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.
Jul 15, 2007 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Historical fiction fanatics
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
Feb 15, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
Jun 30, 2008 rated it it was amazing
I loved, loved, loved this book.
Jul 09, 2007 rated it liked it
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.
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
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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

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