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An Instance of the Fingerpost: A Novel [Paperback]

4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (271 customer reviews)

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Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
Marco da Cola, gentleman of Venice, respectfully presents his greetings. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars So much more than a "murder mystery" Nov. 23 2003
Format:Mass Market Paperback
One of the other customer reviewers of this book complained that the murder was solved summarily a hundred pages before the end and wondered if critics who call this a classic had skimmed the end to meet review deadlines. Such comments make me wonder if that reviewer did not, like so many of the characters in this book, miss the fingerposts.
For this book is not primarily a story about the solving of a murder. The murder itself serves more as plot device to bring the four narrators (and others) together in a certain time and place, allowing them to interact with each other and present their widely diverging views of events, actions, and consequences. Indeed, for three of the four narrators the murder is almost incidental to their narratives, only two of them are actually concerned (or even desirous) that justice be done, and none of them is especially sorrowful about the death of the murder victim. Rather, for each of them the murder is really only significant for the part it plays in their own narrative and what they believe it indicates in terms of their interpretation of events. The driving idea behind the novel is not the solution of a murder, but how different people can see the same facts, or parts thereof, and draw differing conclusions - particularly when those conclusions serve to reinforce preconceived notions; and the more some people believe in the rightness of their preconceptions, the more willing they become to pervert truth to suit their ends.
This extraordinary novel is really a masterpiece of crafting. The use of the first-person narrative allows each narrator to present a depiction of himself (and his motives) very different from the way others see him, which has the effect of causing the reader to rethink and re-examine opinions formed along the way.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent read June 19 2004
Format:Mass Market Paperback
I picked up this book on a whim from a used book store. I decided to buy it because of the unique title. Now, this is one of my favorite books of all time. I love hearing the story from 4 different perspectives, and the ending is so unexpected. After each section, I was so sure I had determined the identity of the murderer, only to discover that I was wrong every time. The history is so interesting, and all of the characters well-developed. I have to concede that the book is LONG, but I do feel that the story benefits from all of the richly descriptive text. I have loaned the book to a friend, but I'm going to read it again when she returns it. I'm sure I will love it even more the second time.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars please read the whole book June 1 2004
By Clegg
Format:Mass Market Paperback
I have just read many reviews. Two people gave the book 1 star after not even finishing the book!! On just any book, this would be a crime. For this book, it is a travesty. This book patiently sets up the great finally and these people are missing it. The end puts the other parts of the book into perspective. When you read it the second time, everything makes much more sense; so please at least read the whole book before reviewing it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Format:Mass Market Paperback
The first two chapters of this book rapidly draw you into the seventeenth century life of Marco da Cola, an Italian merchant's son and student of medicine who travels to England after the sudden death of his father's business partner. The prose reads with incredible authenticity, and you feel as though you've picked up an actual early modern letter. Yet Pears includes numerous witticisms with as much punch today as 350 years ago. Thereafter, the writing slips comfortably into the modern mystery genre. At times, Pears allows philosophical debates to ramble excessively, but soon, the political and religious intrigue surrounding the bizarre posioning of an Oxford professor pushes you to read just one more chapter before bed. With four different accounts of the murder, representing different of Sir Francis Bacon's "idols" which skew our quest for truth, the book becomes engrossing and enlightening. Unfortunately, just as you begin to think this is one of the best books you've ever read, the murder is solved in a disappointing, summary fashion. 100 pages discussing occult beliefs of the time follow. The book concludes with a brief factoid about Charles II that you probably read in your high school history textbook. The novel has enough strong points to make it a worthwhile choice, but I wonder if the professional critics who called it a classic might have skimmed the last part of this lengthy story in a rush to get to print.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Great history, strange ending. July 29 2003
Format:Mass Market Paperback
The plot of AN INSTANCE OF THE FINGERPOST involves interesting history in an international setting, consistent with the "art history mysteries" of the same author, despite that it occurs some 300 years earlier, soon after the restoration of the British monarchy after Cromwell. The time period involves tumultuous change. The plot mixes Italian merchants, French science, the budding British university system, the search for religious freedom in the American colonies, and the first shy steps of experimental science at the beginning of the Renaissance. The novel's holistic reach into life in England in the late 17th century reaches even to the legal system and the clash of its outdated nature with social attitudes that become increasingly modern.
The very unusual surroundings become familiar to the reader through a triple narration. The events are described by three different persons, each providing a very different perspective. Rather than interweaving the three voices, each description is a separate part of the book. Astonishingly, reading the same story for a second and then a third time is not at all boring. The narrators' backgrounds is sufficiently different to make each story interesting and unexpected.
In such a fascinating setting, a boring novel would be hard to write. The mystery is indeed gripping as it unfolds. The ending, however, disappoints. Rather than a logical solution, the author invokes the mystical. This seems contradictory given that the body of the book appeals to reason.
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Most recent customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Good, but overlong and unpolished.
An enjoyable book. It is compelling - I couldn't stop reading it - and provides and intellectual murder mystery without becoming stuffy.
It is not, though, brilliant. Read more
Published on June 22 2004 by Samuel J. Parkinson
4.0 out of 5 stars Good, but overlong and unpolished.
I must confess to some bias in regard to this book: I live in the oxford college in which much of it is set. Read more
Published on June 22 2004 by Samuel J. Parkinson
1.0 out of 5 stars ZZZZZZ..................
This book was extremely boring. I'm a big fan of Umberto Eco, and (to a much lesser degree) Perez-Reverte, so I thought this book was a sure thing. But WOW was I wrong! Read more
Published on May 28 2004 by uti
4.0 out of 5 stars A Must For Thoughtful Readers
First and foremost, this book is an excellent murder mystery. I picked it up because of the blurb on the cover by PD James and was not disappointed. Read more
Published on March 11 2004 by sainte-carmen
5.0 out of 5 stars Alexandria revisited
An Instance of the Fingerpost by Iain Pears relates four views of the same events taking place immediately after the restoration of Charles II in England. Read more
Published on March 7 2004 by Phillip I. Good
1.0 out of 5 stars Boooooooorrrring
Reduce this book by 50% and it would still be way too verbose. The first narative was able to maintain my interest from time to time, but the second two just overwhelmed me with... Read more
Published on Dec 22 2003 by Sal Asutra
5.0 out of 5 stars Thematic spoiler ahead (slightly a plot spoiler)
While asserting the value of religion in the face of science in "The Big Picture: what the religions of the world teach us about the nature of ultimate reality", Huston... Read more
Published on Dec 21 2003 by Anne
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating
An Instance of the Fingerpost tells of the same event from the point of view of four different people. Each person has his own obsessions and knows only part of the truth. Read more
Published on Nov. 14 2003 by Kay L. Robart
5.0 out of 5 stars Poetic Prose at its Best
Sometimes, a work of art comes along that completely captivates all who experience it. This is one of those cases. Read more
Published on Sept. 22 2003 by Avid Reader
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