Sometimes a book comes along and you think ‘wow that ticks all my boxes’. Take Iain Pears ‘Instance of the Fingerpost’, it has a wonderful dark cover with a skull and a tattered worn book – already this is so me, it’s a story of murder set in 1665 (not my favourite period in time but not far off) so we have history, we have a gothic dark undertone and the promise of thrills and spills. So why did this book fall flat with me? Why after reading well over half did I put it to one side with the prospect of an Oxfam run looming?
I got bored. Very bored. This I am sure will outrage many a reader as I have hardly heard a bad review of this novel (oddly another reason I thought I would love it), other than my Gran who has read it for book group and wishes she had done as I did and put it down and not bother.
The tale is set in 1663, in the backdrop we have King Charles II whose thrown is restored though all is not well, in Oxford Dr Robert Grove is found dead in his chambers, the suspected murderer is a servant girl Sarah Blundy. The tale of the murder and the subsequent events which are neither haunting, thrilling nor really that interesting are told by four separate accounts and this is where my first problem lay I think. I didn’t really need to spend over 200 pages a go being told ‘inconclusive biased’ accounts of the same incidents over and over; it didn’t do anything for me. I did like the character of Sarah Blundy; I also like the first narrator of the tale Marco da Cola. But once his version was questioned and I felt I had put so much time and effort into him and his past to be told it was probably all lies I felt angry and cheated.
Maybe that’s what Pears was aiming for, maybe I should have read on and found Marco de Cola had been right all along. What it did instead was infuriate me and leave me reading Jack Prescott’s version of events half heartedly and eventually I just gave up. There ended up being far too many characters and by this point Pears had lost me and so had 1663 Oxford. A shame as from the start I wanted to love this book, maybe its me? Maybe I hype a book up in my own head and then am left disappointed I hope not. This sadly is an author and a book I don’t think I will be giving a second chance, maybe I am just bitter?