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.