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Iain Pears was born in 1955. Educated at Wadham College, Oxford, he has worked as a journalist, an art historian, and a television consultant in England, France, Italy, and the United States. He is the author of seven highly praised detective novels, a book of art history, and countless articles on artistic, financial, and historical subjects, as well as the international bestseller An Instance of the Fingerpost. He lives in Oxford, England.
Pears explores the nature of truth and its dependency on the perspective of the observer in this ingenious and meticulously researched novel set in Restoration England. The vehicle for this exploration is the murder by poison of Dr. Robert Grove of Oxford's New College. Four characters in turn tell their versions of events, highlighting at various times the political, religious, medical, intellectual, and romantic contexts. Pears skillfully evokes the period in these narratives, with language, beliefs, and attitudes. The abridged program, given an able and rich reading by Paul Michael, succeeds and forms its own logical whole. A discerning listener, though, will wonder how much of Pears's subtlety and care in writing and intricacy of the interlocking narratives are lost in the abridgment. Perhaps the type of reader this book truly appeals to will not be satisfied by an abridged reading. Still, demand and use will likely be heavy. Recommended, with reservations.ÄKristen L. Smith, Loras Coll. Lib., Dubuque, IA
This massive, delightfully titled literary thriller (it's a quote from Sir Francis Bacon) is the kind of gamble it's great to see a publisher taking in these often timid times. The English author, responsible so far for a series of conventional mysteries, has gone back to 17th-century Oxford for an absorbing, macabre tale of murder, politics, faith and betrayal. Featured in more than incidental roles are such real-life characters as John Locke, Sir Christopher Wren, Robert Boyle, King Charles II and the Earl of Clarendon. The murder by poisoning of Robert Grove, a Fellow of New College, and the subsequent trial and execution for the crime of Sarah Blundy, daughter of a freethinking early Socialist and anti-Royalist, is the heart of the action, which is related in four separate first-person accounts, each the length of a short novel. There is Marco da Cola, a good-hearted Venetian visitor whose irritable reflections on the English are witty and betray a perfect period ear; Jack Prestcott, a fiery young lawyer devoted to proving that his father, disgraced as a traitor, was himself betrayed; John Wallis, priest, mathematician and cryptographer of genius (also a real character), whose coldly cynical schemes set off a series of dazzlingly complex political maneuvers; and bookish scholar Anthony Wood, a background figure to the rest, but whose consuming love for Sarah makes him ultimately the central actor in the drama. Pears's grasp of the thought of the time, with its scientific zeal curbed always by what seems now like excess religiosity, its ferocious plotting and counterplotting, its struggles for power and position, is sure. Though there are many digressions, most are fascinating, and the book boasts an overall narrative momentum that carries even an ill-informed contemporary reader along. There will be inevitable comparisons with the work of Umberto Eco, but it seems likely that many of those who have bought Eco's books will find Pears by far the more accessible. 80,000 first printing; $150,000 ad/promo; BOMC main selection; foreign rights sold in the U.K., Brazil, France, Germany, Greece, Holland and Italy. (Mar.)
"May well be the best 'historical mystery' ever written."--The Sunday Boston Globe "Ingenious."--The Philadelphia Inquirer "[A] crafty, utterly mesmerizing intellectual thriller...Don't miss it." --The Washington Post Book World "If you liked Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose, you should run to buy Iain Pears's lavishly erudite historical mystery." --The New York Times "Fascinating...quite extraordinary...elevates the murder mystery to the category of high art." --Los Angeles "Extraordinary...this thriller brings not merely a huge cast of characters but a whole century vividly to life." --Newsweek "[A] novel that will have you sitting up all night and calling in sick the next day. It's that hard to put down." --Houston Chronicle "Enthralling." --San Francisco Chronicle Book Review