Although I read all kinds of books, I am a sucker when it comes to certain British authors. Ian McEwan, although I haven't read his latest, is the top of my list (read Atonement, Amsterdam, The Cement Garden) in the "British overload with just the right amount of tweed" moment. Iain Pears is another author whose books I devour. I truly think my IQ goes up whenever I read Pears' works. Stone's Fall, The Portrait, The Dream of Scipio - all great works to get lost in. However, I think his magnum opus is An Instance of the Fingerpost. The 683 page tome sat in my library for quite some time before I decided to read it. It came in handy when my city recently experienced Hurricane Elvis II. With no power, the book was my friend until my utilities were restored. And what a friend I made.
The story is thus: we travel back in time to 1660s Oxford England. A time of discoveries, treachery, revolutions, faith, ignorance, and the vast differences between men and women. A member of New College is found dead in his home and all fingers point to a young servant woman named Sarah Blundy. The story is told from four different perspectives: a young Italian Catholic man who visits England for further studies in medicine, the violent and angry son of a Royalist traitor, a cryptographer who truly has no heart, and an esteemed antiquarian who is also a bibliophile. From their words, we "see" the events leading up to and surrounding the murder as well as whom each person thinks committed the heinous act. However, while each person offers their "truth" of what happened, only one story is the Actual Truth.
I could not put this book down. At all. I found myself tearing through the pages I walked with the characters, shared their awful food and ale, and listened to secrets being told that would never see the light of day. We the readers will be called upon to question everything and to deny nothing, for everything you read in this book, as I said before, is a certain form of the Truth. Pears masterfully blends mystery, history, a bit of romance, politics, and especially religion into a novel that you will miss once you reach the shocking end. I will not give out spoilers but the ending floored me. I had no idea.
I think it's always good to engage in events that challenge our minds and make us think rather than just blindly accept and move on. An Instance of the Fingerpost will challenge you and, hopefully, make you want to learn more about the presented historical figures and time period.
A well done novel!