An Instance of the Fingerpost by Iain Pears

An Instance of the Fingerpost by Iain Pears

Reviewed by L.D.Y.

Hardcover (available in mass-market), 698 pages, 1997

Rating: 7/10

Reason for Reading: Raves from a number of sources.

Synopsis: A blend of murder, mystery, treason, love, and science, four men tell their side of a mysterious tale set in 17th century England in which motives for a man’s death are numerous and the finger-pointing is rampant. Lies and secrecy veil the truth as each man sets out to write a version of events that fits his own agenda.

Why you should read this book: Marco da Cola’s tale is wonderfully told by Pears, and his character is justification enough for reading the book. He’s clever, comes across as cultured and worldly, and his intelligence leads him to consider the possibility of the first blood transfusions, which provides an interesting secondary storyline. There is an interesting mix of real people and fictional characters that provide a solid setting for the book. Good if you want a historical mystery where the murder almost becomes secondary to the characters.

Why you should avoid this book: Compared to the suave Marco da Cola’s accounting of events, the following two from Jack Prescott and John Wallis seem a bit garbled and dull before it picks up again with Anthony Wood. Large chunks of Prescott’s and Wallis’s tales just seem to make the book unnecessarily long.

Opening paragraph:

Marco da Cola, gentleman of Venice, respectfully presents his greetings. I wish to recount the journey which I made to England in the year 1663, the events which I witnessed and the people I met, these being, I hope, of some interest to those concerned with curiousity. Equally, I intend my account to expose the lies told by those whom I once numbered, wrongly, amongst my friends. I do not intend to pen a lengthy self-justification, or tell in detail how I was deceived and cheated out of renown which should rightfully be mine. My recital, I believe, will speak for itself.

Fabulous quotes:

‘More orthodox remedy,’ he said, mimicking my accent cruelly. ‘I suppose some gibbering priest told you that, and you do as you’re told? Eh? Physick is too important to be left to the dabblings of a rich man’s son like you, who could no more cure a cold than you could a broken leg. Stick to counting your money and your acres, and leave serious matters to people who care for them.’
I was so shocked by this outburst, so unforeseen and so very violent, that I said nothing at all in reply, except that I was doing my best and that no one better qualified had offered their services.
‘Oh, get out of my sight,’ he said with the most terrible contempt. ‘I will have none of you. I have no time for quacks and charlatans.’
And he abrubtly turned on his heel and marched away, leaving me standing in the street in shock, my face burning red with anger and embarrassment, conscious above all that I had provided cheap entertainment for the mob of shopkeepers all around me.

As I knelt there, with the water seeping into my shoes and breeches, I knew I had failed. Even if I shouted from the rooftops, it seemed, people would stop their ears and refuse to acknowledge what was so obviously the truth. I do not know whether it would have been different had I spoken earlier, but it was certainly too late now, and the realisation made me sink my head into that puddle and weep with anguish as the rain spattered more mud on to me. It was as though heaven itself had intervened, and made me like some lunatic in the street, shouting out to all the world but finding people averting their eyes and pretending not to notice. In the deepest rage, I beat my fist on the muddy earth and cried in despair at God’s cruelty, and for my reward and solace, hear two passers by laugh with disgust at the raving drunkard they saw on his knees before them.

Also recommended: Testament by Nino Ricci; Fingersmith by Sarah Waters; Slammerkin by Emma Donoghue.

Also by this author: The Portrait; The Dream of Scipio; The Discovery of Painting; The Raphael Affair; The Titian Committee; The Bernini Bust; The Last Judgement; Giotto’s Hand; Death and Restoration; The Immaculate Deception.

© Lisa Yanaky 2003-2007

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