November 02, 2013

An Instance of the Fingerpost by Iain Pears

It's a good thing this book had a strong ending, because it was a definite slog to get through. Having been told it was a really good mystery, I decided to chance it.

An Instance of the Fingerpost is the story of a murder. Well sort of. It's more of the story of four different men who were in some way connected to the murder and the people that were associated with it. Being in England in the 17th century, policework didn't have fingerprinting and other modern methods of solving crimes and so quite often, eyewitness testimony was all you had. Which means that you have unreliable witnesses, which these four are. And so begins the tale of who, what, when, where and why, with four different spins on it.

Let's be honest, none of these narrators were very likable.  They all had their own voice but they were similar as well.  They were men, of higher class, who had pretty high opinions of themselves.  Except maybe the last narrator, his opinion wasn't quite as high.  They each told the story like they believed it to be true.  Which is quite believable as we all interpret events to best suit our own needs.  Pears did a good job of making these characters realistic.  And Sarah, one of the main characters, was as much of an enigma at the end of the book as she was at the beginning.

But the pace of this book was exceptionally slow.  I think a hundred or  so pages could have been cut out and not missed.  And this is due to there being a lot of side plots that only the characters themselves care about.  Obviously these are part of their interpretations of the events that happened, but some were so random and non-meaningful to the main plot, that even though it added realism, the reader may just want to move on to the murder and what happened there.  The history was well researched.  While I don't know much about that time period in England, clothes, speech, and other detail reflected something that wasn't modern.  I do wish we would have gotten Sarah's perspective though.  Just as a counterpoint to all the men's stories.

This was an interesting read and I might pick up a Pears book again.  But only when I'm in the mood for a lot of detail and a meandering plot.  Historical fiction readers will probably greatly enjoy this book.

An Instance of the Fingerpost
Copyright 1998
735 pages

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