Book Review: The Professor of Truth by James Robertson

Signet Magazine

Although the 1988 Pan Am Flight 103 bombing over Lockerbie has never captured the public imagination in the US in quite the same way or to
the same degree as in the UK, it has nonetheless recently attracted renewed American interest, perhaps because the 25th anniversary of the tragedy
has just passed, perhaps because the recent death of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi (the only person convicted of perpetrating the terrorist act) brought the event back into the news, or perhaps because the 50th anniversary of the JFK assassination has breathed new life into conspiracy theories of many ilks. On both sides of the Atlantic, the case has always drawn the attention of sceptics and conspiracy theorists, if only because prosecution of the case depended on the acceptance of what the late Professor Neil MacCormick categorized as “long and finely drawn out chains of circumstantial evidence”.
And any high-profile case built solely on circumstantial evidence almost always leaves much room for mischief and second-guessing.

James Robertson’s new novel, The Professor of Truth, uses the Lockerbie bombing not only as the engine driving a gripping narrative but - even more
important, I think - as the occasion for posing deep philosophical questions about the nature of evidence, the reliability of narratives, the possibility of justice, and the corrupting influence of specialisation. The novel begins some two dozen years after the bombing and a decade after the trial. Dr. Alan Tealing, a lecturer in English literature at a Scottish university, lost his wife and young daughter in the bombing, and - wholly dissatisfied with the official investigation and trial - he has pursued his own inquiry into the tragedy for many years and made himself something of a nuisance to more than one government.

Then, one snow-filled winter afternoon, a retired (and supposedly terminally ill) American intelligence officer, Ted Nilsen, shows up at Tealing’s house claiming to have information to support Tealing’s theory that the man convicted of the bombing was not responsible and that the true perpetrators have remained at large. Nilsen makes a number of Delphic pronouncements that confuse as much as they enlighten, but he ultimately tells Tealing the present location of the prosecution’s key witness, which sets Tealing off on a journey into his own heart of darkness.

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