Thursday, February 22, 2018

The Daughter of Time: Review

The Daughter of Time (1951) was, I think, the very first novel I read by Josephine Tey (aka Elizabeth Mackintosh) long ago from my hometown library. It was also the first historically-based mystery that I ever read. I have to admit that at the time I read it (as a preteen) I wasn't a particularly well-versed in British history. I was aware of Richard III and that he was supposed to have done away with his nephews, but that's about it. Not unlike most of the characters in Tey's book. The nurses and the doctor and those who visit Inspector Alan Grant all have been raised on history books (and Shakespeare) that portrayed Richard as the evil uncle who ruthlessly killed off two children so he could be king. 

That first reading--I was absorbed in Inspector Grant's historical detecting, an activity he takes up when he is forced by an accident to stay in hospital for what seems by today's standards an inordinate amount of time. He's found every pattern possible in the ceiling above him. He's tried all the books his friends have brought him and found them wanting (the books, not the friends). He's bored out of his mind in the world of the 1950s with no in-room television, no phone, no laptop or cellphone to play on all day. Until his friend Marta brings in a bundle of postcards with faces/portraits on them and suggests he do a bit of detecting. Each picture represents a famous "mystery."

Grant is quite taken with one particular portrait of a sensitive and noble-looking man. Before he turns it over to see whose portrait it is, Grant--known for his ability to sum people up by their appearance--tries to determine if the man belongs on the bench or in the dock and comes down firmly for the bench. He's very surprised to discover that he is looking at Richard III and begins to doubt his abilities. But, then, none of the people to whom he shows the portrait identify the man as evil--some think he looks like he's suffered; the doctor suggests that the man has a childhood illness; Grant's subordinate agrees that the man looks judicial. It's only after they are told that it's Richard that any of them decide, "Oh, yes. Now I can see the evil/greed/baseness in his face." 

Grant becomes so interested in Richard that he gets Marta to find him a researcher at the British Library and together Grant and Brent Carradine go on a historical journey to discover the real Richard. The aim is to find out what made a man who looks like Richard turn into a child-murderer. But what they discover is that history is written by the victors and that there is much to doubt about the official story. Richard was a good steward, a brave soldier when necessary, and loyal to his brother, the King.  There is little evidence that he was the greedy, grasping man history had painted him. In fact, there was evidence that he was a popular King during his brief reign. So, what really happened? If Richard didn't kill the Princes in the Tower (or have them killed), then who did?

It was a bit disappointing to find out at the end of the book, that none of Grant and Carradine's discoveries was big news--that historians already knew that there was doubt about Richard's guilt. It's a shame that Tey (and fictionally, Carradine) wasn't able to produce this bombshell and set everyone right. But--after getting over that--it was interesting to look at the ways police detection and historical research are similar. Some of the same questions that benefit Grant in his modern cases (Who benefits? What was everyone doing at the time? etc) were integral to discovering the mysteries of the historical case. Of course, trying to find answers hundreds of years later is a little more difficult. But good research and know what documents to examine for answers go a long way. 

This second reading* was just as entertaining as the first--even though I already knew what they found out and that it wasn't the big bombshell discovery that Carradine (and I) thought it was. I paid more attention to the research methods and the details than I did so many years ago. I enjoyed the little discoveries--the pieces found in letters and brief mentions in historical accounts that help them build their case for Richard's innocence. Not strictly speaking a straight detective novel, but it definitely helped get me interested in historical novels and in finding more Josephine Tey mysteries. ★★★★ then and ★★★★ now.

 [*I actually listened to the BBC Radio version read by Paul Young because I can't figure out what I did with the hard copy I bought myself sometime after I read it from the library--younger Bev forgot to record the date bought on this one. The audio version was excellent.]


Lisbeth said...

I loved this one. Even more later, since I got into the Richard III hype when they found his grave. I have read some non-fiction about him and was truly inspired by this book. In any case, it is a fascinating real life story however you look at it. I went to Leicester to look at his tomb and the museum, which was really great. A beautiful tomb.

Bev Hankins said...

Lisbeth--yes, it is a fascinating story. I went on a little historical binge myself back when I first read this.

Unknown said...

Really a fantastic story that makes me feel happy. I would be looking for an eBook print of this book. So I can download eBook copy for me and read the whole story of novel.