After Babs moved out, I found an old copy of An Instance of the Fingerpost in her room. Seeing that it was written by the author of The Dream of Scipio, Ian Pears, which I enjoyed, I decided to read it. Since my paperback edition has 735 pages of very small print, this took a while.
Reviewers have compared Fingerpost to Umberto Ecco’s The Name of the Rose. Both are historical mysteries where the role of ideas is the key to the solving of the mystery. I've read both and I think I enjoyed Fingerpost more.
An Instance of the Fingerpost is set in 1663 England, just after the death of Oliver Cromwell and the Restoration of King Charles II. Civil strife and intrigue are the order of the day, and no one is who he or she seems to be.
The death of Dr. Robert Grove, apparently from poison, is the focus of the mystery. The story is divided into four sections--each written from the point of view of a different character, two of whom are historical figures. The reader is challenged to discern the truth that lies beneath the widely differing accounts which are shaped by the ideology and theology of each character.
The term “fingerpost” in the title is puzzling, but the introduction to the final quarter of the book is a quote from Sir Francis Bacon, who said “When in a Search of any Nature the Understanding stands suspended, then Instances of the Fingerpost shew the true and inviolable Way in which the Question is to be decided.” In other words, a fingerpost is a piece of evidence that excludes all but one possibility. Looking for that fingerpost will keep you occupied until the very last page.
An Instance of the Fingerpost makes a great (albeit L-o-n-g) summer read, particularly for those who enjoy English history. And do keep in mind that it is a work of fiction, not theology. If you finish the book, you'll see what I mean, but I can't be more clear without giving away the fingerpost.