Review: An Instance of the Fingerpost, by Iain Pears
WELL WHAT THE FUCK, INTERNET FRIENDS.
This book makes absolutely no sense. I am still so confused, but also so impressed? Very basically, this is the story of a murder that takes place in Oxford in the 1660s, in the still-early years of the Restoration; and the murder ends up tying into unraveling a conspiracy that happened in the last days of the Protectorate and the frame-up of a young woman in Oxford for the murder (I will just flag - there is so much 17th-century misogyny in this book it can be quite difficult to read in parts, especially in the second series of chapters). The book is split into four sections, each told through the perspective of a different character involved in the story, and each of the narrators is unreliable to different degrees; we tend to find out in the next section how the first one left out information. The threads all come together in the end, as the perspective of every character reveals a different piece of the puzzle.
And, hooooo boy, was this a fucking ride. This book pulled me in and sent me on a fun little rollercoaster, while also absolutely throwing me for a loop every section and every single new discovery was a curveball. I absolutely loved it, though, and here is a nonexhaustive list of why:
Marco da Cola, the first POV, relentlessly shits on England throughout the entirety of his chapters. It is pure Continental savagery and I was CACKLING every other paragraph. At one point, he spends three straight pages shitting on King Lear. He also says things like "how recently this race of islanders emerged from barbarianism" and then complains constantly about how bad English food, weather and wine is. Reader, it was brilliant.
Anthony Wood, the last POV, talking about how the worst thing da Cola ever did was destroy a book to turn it into a hiding place. I don't think I was supposed to agree with him on that on, but I did. People who willingly destroy books deserve to be put in jail and I will die on this hill.
The absolute sassiness of all the characters, constantly and always.
Seriously though, I do highly recommend this book - the mystery is clever, and the way it comes together in the end is really well done. The pieces that you needed to figure it out were always there, so I never felt like I'd been unfairly tricked or that Pears had hidden things from me to keep me going; I just thought he'd written a marvellous bait-and-switch mystery novel. The writing was also lovely - each character had a distinct voice, and each was deeply unpleasant in their own way (I was low-key impressed by how absolutely despicable Jack Prestcott, the second POV character, was in a first-person narrative).
And the plot twists as they get sprinkled in were so good, and so consequential without ever feeling unfairly bought or earned, that I actually yelped at the last one. Oh, God, it's so good.
This isn't a book that you pick up and read casually - I found myself having to go back and reread chapters because I'd missed important things. A lot of things happen in the subtext and in throwaway lines in dialogue, so you do need to sit down and work through this novel, but the historical research is well done (the setting always felt incidental to the story, which I do really appreciate in a historical fiction; I was completely transported) and the mystery is gripping throughout. The resolution is so satisfying that I found the work it took to get every bit of joy out of this novel worth it.
Ugh, it's so good. I'm going to want to reread this later so I can really pick out all of the clues that I missed the first time round.