Showing 1 - 3 of 3 annotations associated with Pears, Iain
The wealthy financier, John William Stone, is found dead beneath the window of his home, having fallen, jumped, or been pushed. The will charges his widow, Elizabeth Lady Ravenscliff, with finding Stone’s lost child. She had known nothing about this episode in his life, but she is determined to honour his wish.
The story centers on a financial mystery told in three parts that move further back in time: London 1909, Paris 1890, and Venice 1867. Each story gives a different version of Elizabeth – none refutes any of the others.
In the first part, Elizabeth is cool, superior and in charge, but her grief is genuine. She hires Matthew Braddock to look for the missing child, suggesting that he pose as a hired biographer. The writer is smitten with Elizabeth and concludes that there was no lost child.
The second part is narrated by a spy, Henry Cort. In this version, Elizabeth began as a waif who became a high-class prostitute, involved in affairs of state. Addicted to drugs, she was dangerous and selfish, but Cort never realizes that she is his sister.
The last (but earliest) part is told by Stone himself about an affair he once had in Venice and its sorry end. The last few pages draw the disparate threads together and account cleverly for all the mysteries.
A mystery, set in the seventeenth century and told by four different eye-witnesses, all men. Two are the views of fictitious characters, two are imputed to be real figures from the past. Beautiful, but poverty-stricken Sarah Blundy is accused of having killed a professor, only remotely connected to her. Each of the observers reasons his way to a position on her guilt or innocence based on their skewed observation of the events, and on their own assumptions about women, religion, and justice. Post-Cromwellian tensions between Catholics, Protestants, and Quakers are explored.
A manuscript by the Italian, Dr. Cola, constitutes the first account. In the thrall of medical science and the great Robert Boyle, Cola is cast as the true "inventor" of transfusion which is "stolen" by the real and vibrant Richard Lower, generally credited by historians with its first use in England. Cola attends Sarah’s ailing mother gratis and transfuses her with modest success.
The other three writers react to his version of the tale which they read in manuscript. The mad Jack Prescott is intent on exonerating his probably inexonerable father for misdeeds in the Civil War, while the uncharitable cryptographer, John Wallis, is intent on divining nothing but evil in the cryptic forms of women, Catholics, and foreigners. Their versions are wondrously convoluted attempts to keep the impossible within the realm of the plausible. Pears puts the truth (such as it is) in the words of the real antiquarian, Anthony Wood, who explains that a fingerpost--like a pathognomonic sign--points to the only solution possible.
Manlius is a 5th C Roman patrician living in Provence who has studied with the wise, reclusive Sophia. He writes his understanding of her teaching in his essay, 'Dream of Scipio,' which trades on an essay by the great Roman orator, Cicero. Sensing that the Empire is gravely threatened, he makes a pact with barbarians, sells out his neighbors, slays his adopted son, and becomes a bishop of the Christian religion, which he has long despised. Late in this ruthless and doomed attempt to salvage what he values most in his world, Sophia makes it clear that he has misunderstood her teaching.
Olivier is an astonishingly gifted 14th century Provencal poet whose intolerant father tries to stifle his love of letters, among which is Manlius's 'Dream'; his father destroys the manuscript, but Olivier recopies it from memory. As plague advances on their region, Olivier finds a mentor in the high churchman, Ceccani, who is bent on keeping the papacy in Avignon. He plans to destroy Jews as symbolic expiation for plague, widely construed to be a form of divine punishment. Olivier befriends a Jewish scholar and falls in love with his beautiful heretic servant.
The 'Dream' and the imprisonment of his friends lead Olivier to question and then betray his mentor. Either because of his efforts to save them, or for his role in a murder, he is mutilated--his tongue and hands cut off to rob him of speech and writing. The brutal mutilation appears early in the book--it is not fully explained until the end.
Julien is a French historian who has studied the poet, Olivier, and the rendition of Manlius' manuscript. He finds solace in his erudition as his county falls to the Nazi occupation. An old school friend who is a collaborator, gives him work as a censor and tolerates Julien's Jewish lover, the artist Julia. In the end, Julien is forced to choose between saving either another school friend in the Resistance or Julia. He chooses Julia, looses her anyway, and commits suicide in a vain attempt to warn his friend.