Wednesday, July 17, 2019

The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey

The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey published 1951 is a classic in the mystery/ crime genre, a unique sort of crime novel involving a 20th century Scotland Yard Detective determined to solve a 500 year old mystery involving Richard III (The English King who ruled from 1483-1485). Was Richard responsible fo the deaths of his two nephews, the Princes in the Tower as they have been called, or has he been unfairly maligned by history?  Josephine Tey makes a good case for why Richard might be innocent and I found this book to be both entertaining and educational.

And so when The Daughter of Time begins we are in England during the early 1950's and Alan Grant is a detective with Scotland Yard.  He is in the hospital recuperating from an injury.  He is bored and frustrated.  Friends bring him books he has no interest in reading and then one of his closest friends Marta Hallard a theater actress brings him a portfolio containing dozens of portraits of famous historical figures.  It turns out to be just what the doctor ordered since Alan is a specialist in reading faces. He spends an enjoyable day in bed looking at each portrait, speculating about who they were, their character traits, etc.  But then he comes to one photo he has overlooked:

"It was the portrait of a man.  A man dressed in the velvet cap and slashed doublet of the late fifteenth century.  A man about thirty-five or thirty-six years old and clean shaven ... a judge? a soldier? a prince?  Someone used to great responsibility, and responsible in his authority.  Someone too conscientious.  A worrier, perhaps a perfectionist ... Someone, too who had suffered ill-health as a child ... He turned the portrait over to look for a caption.  Richard the Third.  So that was who it was.  Richard the Third.  Crouchback.  The monster of nursery stories.  The destroyer of innocence. A synonym for villainy".  

What bothers Alan Grant is how he could have read a face so wrong "mistaken one of the most notorious murderers of all time for a judge" and so Grant decides to investigate.  Who was Richard the Third, what made him tick, and what really happened to his two young nephews?  But how do you begin an investigation confined to your hospital bed?  And how to discover the truth about a crime that happened five hundred years ago?

Detective Grant uses the tools at his disposal.  He discusses the case with the hospital staff and it turns out one of his nurses knows a good deal about Richard III and directs Grant to an influential biography of the man written by Sir Thomas More.  But Grant discovers there are serious problems with More's biography, gossip and inuendo reported as fact.  

Detective Grant realizes that he needs to start from scratch to learn the truth about Richard III.  Once again his friend Marta comes to the rescue.  She introduces Grant to a young American scholar, Brent Carradine who is at the British Museum doing research about the Plantagenet period in English history.  Brett jumps at the chance to help Alan and as they hash out the case together they uncover a great deal. Richard was not a ruthless King and Edward IV had older children who would have inherited the throne before the nephews so their murder made no sense.  Grant and Carradine go on to discover that during Richard's short life (he died at age 32) there were no accusations that the nephews were dead or even missing.  Grant comes to the conclusion that the nephews were therefore alive when Henry VII who suceeded Richard took power and could he have been the real killer?

One thought that occured to me as I was reading The Daughter of Time was did Josephine Tey uncover all this evidence of Richard's innocence and if so where were the historians down through the centuries?  Well actually after the Tudor line ended the historians of the 18th and 19th century took a look at this case and  questions began to arise.  But in the 20th century regarding Richard's innocence Josephine Tey has done a great deal to bring this case to the modern day public's attention and with over 700 reviews on Amazon its clear that readers are still interested.  I recommend The Daughter of Time for mystery lovers and history buffs alike.