THE PROFESSOR OF TRUTH by James Robertson
“When I think of Nilsen now, how he came and vanished again in the one day, I don’t feel any warmer towards him in the remembering than I did when he was here. Â I don’t even feel grateful for what he gave me, because he and his kind kept it from me for so long. Â But I do think of the difficult journey he made, and why he made it. Â What set him off, he told me, was seeing me being interviewed on television, after Khalil Khazar’s death. Â He said he’d watched the interview over and over. Â He’d wanted to feel what I felt. Â But you cannot feel what another person feels. Â You cannot evenÂ imagine it, however hard you try. Â This I know.”
Review by Roger BrunyateÂ (DEC 28, 2014)
On December 21, 1988, almost exactly twenty-five years ago as I write, Pan American flight 103 from London to New York was brought down by a bomb and crashed over the small town of Lockerbie, Scotland, killing all 259 people aboard and eleven more on the ground. Although others may have been implicated, only one man was convicted of planting the bomb, a Libyan national who was released several years later on compassionate grounds; he died of prostrate cancer in 2012. His death may well have been the trigger for Scottish author James Robertson’s imaginative and morally profound novel; it is certainly the event with which it opens. Not that Robertson mentions real names: the airline, places, and foreign countries involved are left anonymous, and the convicted bomber, his presumed accomplice, and the chief witness are given pseudonyms. But as every detail that Robertson does give — even down to the date, time, and 38-minute duration of the flight — are precisely the same as the Pan Am crash, he is clearly not trying to disguise his intended subject.
Or rather, not his subject. For although he goes into the crash and subsequent investigation in detail, his focus is on aspects of such a story that are not put to rest by a simple verdict. Do law enforcement agencies ever bend the facts to fit a politically expedient narrative? Can vengeance be exacted against a scapegoat who may not in fact be guilty? Is there such a thing as true closure? What happens when a man’s grief turns to an obsession that prevents him from leading a meaningful life? When truth is found, will it stand out like a pristine shining object, or will it be a tarnished affair of accident and compromise?
Alan Tealing is a Lecturer in English at a new university in an old Scottish town (I imagine Stirling). After losing his American wife and six-year-old daughter in the bombing, he devotes his research skills to following the case in every aspect. But some things at the trial convince him that they have got the wrong man, and he takes his doubts public. As the book opens, he is giving a television interview proclaiming that the death of the convicted bomber will change nothing. But it does change something. It brings to his door a former CIA/FBI operative named Nielsen who needs to make peace with his own conscience before dying. What he tells Alan will send him off to Australia, where the novel reaches its climax in the midst of a series of devastating bush fires. The antipodean leap from the first part, entitled “Ice,” to the second, “Fire,” is the one weak point in an otherwise superb novel, requiring that the reader shares Alan’s obsession enough to follow even the slimmest of clues. But his encounters with the two principal people he meets there will propel the story into new depths, and open him to disasters other than his own. The action climax is magnificently handled, but even more magnificent is the quiet settling that follows it, so much more meaningful than a pat solution to some mystery or conspiracy theory. A truly fine book.
|AMAZON READER RATING:||from 7 readers|
|PUBLISHER:||Other Press (September 10, 2013)|
|AVAILABLE AS A KINDLE BOOK?||YES! Start Reading Now!|
|AUTHOR WEBSITE:||Wikipedia page on James Robertson|
|MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION:||Another real event fiction:|
- Close: Stories (1991)
- Ragged Man’s Complaint: Stories (1993)
- Scottish Ghost Stories (1996)
- The Fanatic (2000)
- Joseph Knight (2003)
- The Testament of Gideon Mack (2006)
- And the Land Lay Still (2010)
- Republics of the Mind (2012)
- The Professor of Truth (2013)