Estimated read time: 6 min read

One Sentence Summary

A historical thriller set in 17th century England, where four narrators provide conflicting accounts of a murder and the truth becomes increasingly elusive.

An Instance of the Fingerpost by Iain Pears: A Historical Thriller

Introduction

In "An Instance of the Fingerpost" by Iain Pears, readers are transported to 17th-century England, a time of political intrigue, religious tension, and scientific revolution. This historical thriller takes us on a captivating journey through the perspectives of four different narrators, each providing their own version of events surrounding a mysterious murder. With its intricate plot, rich historical backdrop, and complex characters, the book keeps readers on the edge of their seats until the final revelation.

Brief Synopsis

Set in the 1660s, during the reign of Charles II, the story unfolds in the city of Oxford, which serves as the backdrop for a murder investigation. The victim, Robert Grove, is a fellow at New College, and his death sparks a web of conspiracy and suspicion. The book is divided into four sections, each narrated by a different character, shedding light on their unique perspectives and motivations.

Plot Overview

In the first section, the narrator is a young Venetian medical student named Marco da Cola. He becomes entangled in the murder investigation when he is asked to decode a cryptic message found near the crime scene. As Marco delves deeper into the mystery, he discovers a hidden world of secrets and political maneuverings.

The second section introduces us to Dr. John Wallis, a mathematician, and cryptographer. Through his narrative, we gain insight into the scientific and intellectual climate of the time. Dr. Wallis plays a crucial role in deciphering the coded message and uncovers a conspiracy involving high-ranking individuals.

The third section is narrated by Anthony Wood, an antiquary and historian. Wood's account takes us into the realm of religious fanaticism and the ongoing tension between Catholics and Protestants. His perspective adds layers of complexity to the murder investigation and reveals the intricate web of alliances and betrayals.

The final section is narrated by Sarah Blundy, a young woman accused of the murder. Her narrative challenges the reader's assumptions and forces them to question the reliability of the previous narrators. As Sarah tells her side of the story, the true events surrounding the murder are gradually revealed.

Setting

The story primarily takes place in Oxford, England, during the 17th century. The city's academic institutions, religious divisions, and political landscape serve as essential elements of the plot. The historical context of the Restoration period adds depth to the narrative, with the aftermath of the English Civil War and the shift in power from the Puritans to the monarchy influencing the events.

Main Characters

Character NameDescription
Marco da ColaA Venetian medical student with a talent for deciphering codes. He becomes a key figure in the murder investigation.
Dr. John WallisA mathematician and cryptographer who assists in deciphering the coded message. He uncovers a conspiracy that puts his life at risk.
Anthony WoodAn antiquary and historian who provides insights into the religious and political climate of the time. His account reveals hidden alliances and betrayals.
Sarah BlundyA young woman accused of the murder. Her narrative challenges the reader's assumptions and reveals the truth behind the events.

Main Events

ChapterEvent
Chapter 1Robert Grove is found dead, and Marco da Cola is asked to decode a cryptic message near the crime scene.
Chapter 2Dr. John Wallis joins the investigation, deciphering the code and uncovering a conspiracy involving high-ranking individuals.
Chapter 3Anthony Wood provides insights into the religious tensions and political landscape of the time, revealing hidden alliances and betrayals.
Chapter 4Sarah Blundy's narrative reveals the truth behind the murder and challenges the assumptions made by the previous narrators.

Themes and Insights

Themes:

  1. Truth and Perception: The book explores the subjective nature of truth, highlighting the different perspectives and biases of the narrators. It questions the reliability of eyewitness accounts and challenges the reader to question their own perceptions.
  2. Power and Politics: The story delves into the political intrigue of the time, where powerful individuals manipulate events to serve their own interests. It explores the corrupting influence of power and the lengths people will go to maintain it.
  3. Science and Enlightenment: The scientific advancements and intellectual debates of the 17th century play a significant role in the narrative. The book highlights the clash between traditional beliefs and the emerging scientific worldview.

Insights:

  • The book provides a nuanced portrayal of historical events, capturing the complexity of the Restoration period and its impact on various social and religious groups.
  • It explores the human tendency to twist the truth to fit one's own agenda, emphasizing the importance of critical thinking and questioning established narratives.
  • The narrative structure, with its multiple perspectives, encourages readers to consider different viewpoints and challenges the notion of a single, objective truth.

Reader's Takeaway

"An Instance of the Fingerpost" is a meticulously researched historical thriller that offers a captivating blend of mystery, politics, and intellectual intrigue. Through its complex characters and shifting narratives, the book explores themes of truth, power, and the clash between science and traditional beliefs. It is a compelling read that keeps readers guessing until the very end.

Conclusion

Iain Pears' "An Instance of the Fingerpost" is a masterfully crafted historical thriller that takes readers on a journey through 17th-century England. With its richly drawn characters, intricate plot, and thought-provoking themes, the book immerses readers in a world of murder, conspiracy, and political maneuverings. As the multiple narratives unfold, the true events surrounding the murder gradually come to light, challenging the reader's assumptions and providing a unique perspective on the nature of truth. This gripping novel is a must-read for fans of historical fiction and mystery.

An Instance of the Fingerpost FAQ

  1. What is 'An Instance of the Fingerpost' about?

    'An Instance of the Fingerpost' is a historical mystery novel set in 17th-century Oxford, England. It follows four narrators who provide different perspectives on a murder and the events leading up to it.

  2. Who is the author of 'An Instance of the Fingerpost'?

    The author of 'An Instance of the Fingerpost' is Iain Pears.

  3. What genre does 'An Instance of the Fingerpost' belong to?

    'An Instance of the Fingerpost' is a historical fiction and mystery novel.

  4. When was 'An Instance of the Fingerpost' published?

    'An Instance of the Fingerpost' was published in 1997.

  5. How many pages does 'An Instance of the Fingerpost' have?

    'An Instance of the Fingerpost' has approximately 704 pages.

  6. Is 'An Instance of the Fingerpost' a standalone novel or part of a series?

    'An Instance of the Fingerpost' is a standalone novel.

  7. What is the setting of 'An Instance of the Fingerpost'?

    'An Instance of the Fingerpost' is set in 17th-century Oxford, England.

  8. Are there any notable themes in 'An Instance of the Fingerpost'?

    Yes, some notable themes in 'An Instance of the Fingerpost' include deception, betrayal, truth, and the nature of evidence.

  9. Is 'An Instance of the Fingerpost' based on true events?

    'An Instance of the Fingerpost' is a work of fiction, although it incorporates historical elements and settings.

  10. Has 'An Instance of the Fingerpost' won any awards?

    Yes, 'An Instance of the Fingerpost' was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1997.