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Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey

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Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey

Post by diamondlil » Wed September 3rd, 2008, 8:56 pm

Scotland Yard Inspector Alan Grant lies in a hospital bed with a broken leg. To alleviate his boredom, a friend brings him a pile of pictures: photographs, prints, engravings, and clippings. Among the more engrossing images is the portrait of King Richard III. Studying the benign face, he asks himself how such a sensitive-appearing soul could have been the infamous murderer of his own nephews. With the help of the British Museum and an American scholar, Grant reconsiders 500-year-old evidence pertaining to one of the most intriguing murder mysteries of all time. Josephine Tey's answer to who really killed the two princes in the Tower of London has provoked controversy ever since its publication in 1951.

The Daughter of Time is actually the fifth book in a series of six mysteries that feature Inspector Grant. Normally the fact that I was reading a book from a series out of order would really freak me out, however, it didn't this time, mainly because I didn't find out until after I finished it!

With the first book in the series being published in 1929 and this one published in 1951, it is actually a pretty old book, and yet for the most part it does not feel dated at all. There are the occasional things which are, for example the Inspector smoking in his hospital bed, a little bit of the language (calling gangsters wideboys)...oh, and the fact that there was no internet to assist with the research, but overall the story is so well written that it holds up for today's reader without too many problems.

The story is that Inspector Grant is stuck in hospital after falling through a trap door with a broken leg (presumably in the book before this), and so he is in hospital laying flat on his back for weeks (Okay...so maybe it is a little dated. My sister recently broke her kneecap and was out of hospital in two days). Nearly driven round the twist with boredom, one of his friends goes and gets some portraits of historical figures that are connected to unsolved mysteries of the past to see whether that kind of mental exercise will help cheer him up. After discarding some pretty famous names like Perkin Warbeck and Lucrezia Borgia, Grant spies a portrait of Richard III. Priding himself as a man who is able to be a good judge of character based solely on a face, Grant finds himself wondering how a man who looks like Richard III has been portrayed through the years as one of the most evil kings of England ever.

So Grant, with the able assistance of a young American researcher by the name of Brent Carradine, sets out to track down contemporary accounts of Richard III to try and found out what the man was really liked. Having discovered that most of the famous accounts were either hearsay or written by Richard's enemies, Grant decides to use the skills that he has gained at Scotland Yard to in effect investigate Richard and see whether he could possibly be guilty of the things that he has been accused of doing over the years, including murdering his own two nephews in order to gain the crown for himself.

He starts with a series of questions. For example, where was Richard when he found out that his older brother King Edward IV had died? What did he do when he heard? Were his actions consistent with those of a man who had gaining the throne for himself as his foremost concern? Using the same approach for many of the other key figures, by following through some of the key events from history and investigating logically, Grant comes up with some quite interesting theories as to what really happened all those years ago.

I have to admit that I am quite partial to a story about Richard III. This interest started when I read Sunne in Splendour by Sharon Penman, and has continued through The Seventh Son by Reay Tannahill, and most recently, A Rose for the Crown. For some reason I do always end up reading novels that are very pro Richard, and this one is no exception, although this one does come up with a different answer to that age old question - if Richard didn't kill the princes in the tower...then who did!

In terms of the style of the novel, it is an interesting mix - more like a case study than your traditional historical fiction novel. Whilst I would guess that the book would qualify as a historical mystery, it is interesting to note that the author didn't take us back in time, and feel the need to share the smells, dresses and rituals of the time, but rather gives us an analytical look back at a particular character, and a particular series of events that were pretty crucial to English history. It is an unusual way of writing the book, but it works.

One interesting thing that I found, was that Miss Tey put a reference to the Inspector going to watch one of the plays that she had written under her other pen name of Gordon Taviot. Normally when I read that kind of thing, for example when an author writes themselves into the story, I find it kind of jarring. It did amuse me to think that kind of thing was happening all those years ago as well. There is nothing new under the sun...apparently!!

A very entertaining read of a book that is probably as close to a historical fiction classic that you can get, and well worth trying to get hold of! I have every intention of reading more from this author.

Rating 4.5/5
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Post by donroc » Wed September 3rd, 2008, 9:03 pm

I also endorse it. A wonderful attempt to rehabilitate Richard III. A surprise for me as well. I found it in the mystery section years ago.

Bodo the Apostate, a novel set during the reign of Louis the Pious and end of the Carolingian Empire.

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Post by JaneConsumer » Wed September 3rd, 2008, 11:08 pm

I very much enjoyed the intellectual puzzle when I first read this book. Thanks for the great review!

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Post by sweetpotatoboy » Thu January 6th, 2011, 5:38 pm

I attended a book group meeting discussing this book last night. I had read it three or four years ago and when I saw a group I hadn't attended before had selected it, and given that it's a short book, I re-read it over the holidays.

First things first, Tey was a writer of mystery/detective novels and, I believe, wrote this book in that mould - despite it being (from what I understand) very different from the rest of her books in many respects.

The book group I attended is a crime/mystery novel group, which is why they'd selected it. However, many of them disliked it and said they couldn't get into it and weren't at all engaged by it. Some wanted more character and plot development in the modern-day story - about Grant and his visitors and the nurses. Some also started trying to pick holes in his detective work or were disappointed with the mystery itself and that there wasn't enough suspension or a 'twist'.

Although I think the book has flaws, I thought many of them were missing the point of the book. It's not really a mystery novel as such, but more an exploration of truth and history and, perhaps, comparing the workings of a detective's mind vs that of a historian.

Although the book also helped rehabilitate Richard III (and some of the readers last night were unaware that the case against him is not watertight), for me the point of the book is not whether it turns out to be Richard or Henry who was to blame. That's kind of immaterial (to the book) and the arguments will go backwards and forwards and we'll probably never know for sure.

For me, the book is simply about discovering that what we believe to be true - what accepted wisdom handed down tells about events and individuals - may actually not be the case and everything that goes with that.

It's a bit of an odd one - possibly a bit of an experiment on the author's part - albeit a largely successful one for many readers, then and now.

But I understand that if you're looking for a more standard mystery novel, with an engaging plot and twist, you will be disappointed.

Similarly, it's not a historical novel either, I believe, or even a standard historical mystery.

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Post by annis » Fri January 7th, 2011, 1:55 am

I hate to think how many years it is since I read this one, but I was very taken with its originality at the time. I agree, it is probably quite hard to categorize, but it is definitely an exploration of a mystery, and made quite an impact when it came out.

I've got a novel on my TBR stack at the moment that I'm looking forward to. It's another exploration of the mystery of the princes in the Tower, although it's actually set during the period of Henry VIII's dissolution of the monasteries. Jeremy Potter's A Trail of Blood was published in 1985, and in his foreword he cites Daughter of Time as his inspiration.

With a touch of wry wit he goes on to say:

"Ever since their supposed murder the princes in the Tower have haunted English history. The question of Richard III's guilt has been debated for five hundred years. All I claim for my version of events is that it is as plausible as the one circulated by three earlier practitioners of the art of crime fiction: H.Tudor, T. More and W. Shakespeare."

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