An Instance of the Fingerpost, by Iain Pears (Vintage, £7.99 in UK)


This hefty historical thriller wades deep into the muddy waters of Restoration London to tell the usual dastardly tale of betrayal, lust and murder. Pears keeps the tension going through the use of a series of four very different narrators, each of whom gives his version of the events surrounding the death - suspicious, naturally - of an Oxford academic, a clever narrative device which pushes the story into the realms of science, espionage, politics and religion by turns. To sustain this for nigh on 700 pages is quite a feat, and the patient reader is rewarded with an audacious denouement - but it's nothing like as classy a book as its cover, or the copious comparisons with The Name of the Rose which adorn the back page of that cover, would have you believe.