Valuable quotes

"No person is your friend who demands your silence, or denies your right to grow." ~~

"The minute you start talking about what you're going to do if you lose, you've already lost." ~~

Cree Prophecy - "When all the trees have been cut down, when all the animals have been hunted, when all the waters are polluted, when all the air is unsafe to breathe, only then will you discover you cannot eat money." ~~

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Instance of the Fingerpost- A novel by Iain Pears

This is a powerhouse of a book and not for the faint of heart as we’re taken back to England in the mid 1660’s - 1663 to be exact - Oxford England at the height of Restoration. A bold display of class differences, monarchy, war and deception, treason and prison, poisoning and trials, public hangings, science versus religion, truth and lies. A plethora of autopsies, human and animal, transfusions. Just your typical renaissance romp.

Anyone knowing anything of this period, knows the civil unrest and the intrigues of the times. With Cromwell dead and the monarchy restored, England is in an uneasy period and even the hallowed cloisters of Oxford provide no refuge.

The place is New College, Oxford and a professor, Dr. Robert Grove is found dead in his college suite from what appears to be arsenic poisoning. A missing signet ring from the doctors’ hand quickly leads the officials to arrest a former chambermaid, a young and very comely Sarah Blundy. Though there is little investigation in the crime, Sarah, though innocent, quickly confesses to the murder and is hanged.
End of story? No; just the beginning. Was Sarah actually innocent?

Enter Marco da Cola, a visiting Venetian popinjay self-described ''gentleman of Venice,'' who is also trained in medicine, Cola is a dilettante physician of sorts. After learning of Sarah's ailing mother Anne, and being somewhat infatuated with Sarah, Marco begins treating Anne. The very Catholic Marco is intent on claiming credit for the invention of blood transfusion. He feels with the use of his discovery on Anne, he will be readily accepted into the medical fold of his peers.

Then there is Sarah's former lover Jack Prestcott, an undergraduate and man of violent passions, jailed for attacking his guardian and consumed with proving that his exiled father was hounded to his death, innocent of the charge of treason the returning monarch Charles II's supporters had lodged against him.

As we learn more about young Sarah, we are introduced to a wealth of possible murderers and through the telling by four different people, we get to the events leading up to the death of Dr. Grove.

Da Cola's account, opens the book, which introduces us to all major and most minor characters, his is followed by Jack Prestcott's account which exudes the bitterness of the wronged; then comes Dr. Wallis' account; he twists all events to conform to his paranoid world view. Dr. Wallis is a mathematician and cryptographer for three Kings and Parliament, and lives, eats and breathes cryptography. He believes he sees a sinister underlying truth in everything.

Finally there's Anthony Wood, an author. Wood comes across more sympathetically, much like in his autobiography (understandably; not many people think ill of themselves). He has a favorable opinion of himself, but inclines towards being uncharitable when discussing others. Wood's avocation renders him vital to the story; a pack rat, he spends his days cataloging and reading manuscripts in the Oxford library, when not deep into reading his books. A true historian, he desires only to show the truth as best he knows it.
All four accounts are believable, and they all tie-in to each other remarkably well.

Underlying it all are competing notions of truth. They relate the events surrounding a murder as they’ve come to understand it. Each has his own knowledge, perspective, and motive in his personal telling. Several prominent figures from history, John Locke and Robert Boyle among them, are also written in as participants to the action making the story more believable. There are citations from Francis Bacon, the father of the scientific revolution, to provide sign-posts to the continuing unfolding mystery.

This tale is entertaining and though long, Pears’ work as art historian, consultant and journalist enables him to lay out a compelling and intelligently written mystery…a search for real truth, precise and accurate in every word. Against this backdrop of English Restoration, Pears has woven a wonderful story of darkness and shadows. A must for anyone who likes good literature mixed with history and an exciting plot.

There are so many aspects to this book that I could write a review as long as the book just to cover them. If I have any criticism of this book, it’s that it is wordy and not what could be considered a page-turner. Because of the time it takes to get though it, this one is only for the serious readers who love the genre and good writing.

Having said that, I would highly recommend it for those that enjoyed
Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose.

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