The Daughter of Time, by Josephine Tey

>> Thursday, July 29, 2004

The Daughter of Time, by Josephine Tey, was recommended on one of the lists I belong to. Since I remember being fascinated by Elizabeth Peters' The Murders of Richard III when I first read it years ago (it inspired much searching about for more info), I immediately ordered a copy.

In Daughter of Time, Tey focuses on the legend of Richard III, the evil hunchback of British history accused of murdering his young nephews. While at a London hospital recuperating from a fall, Inspector Alan Grant becomes fascinated by a portrait of King Richard. A student of human faces, Grant cannot believe that the man in the picture would kill his own nephews. With an American researcher's help, Grant delves into his country's history to discover just what kind of man Richard Plantagenet was and who really killed the little princes.
Yet again, I was fascinated, frustrated, angry and sad about what I read, just as if I had never known the story. This is a book in which nothing much really happens physically in the narration: the action all takes place in Inspector Alan Grant's hospital room. People come in, bring him books and have conversations with him, and he reads the books he's brought and shares with us readers what he read. That's it. And yet the book is anything but boring.

In fact, by the end of the book, it didn't feel at all like I hadn't moved from Grant's room. It felt like I'd visited in the 15th century and had a fresh look at things I thought I knew.

What's most brilliant about the book is the method Tey uses to tell us about what she thinks really happened. Grant applies his skills as a detective to find out the truth, basing himself on the methods he uses in investigating a crime in real life. For instance, what did Richard do, objectively, when he received news of his brother's death? The result is very, very convincing.

Negatives? Hmm, actually, a couple. The first is that I get the feeling Tey's a little bit too on the side of Richard III. It's not that I actually know anything about the subject, but the case for Richard seems too clear-cut. I can't help but wonder if there are no arguments against him at all. Then again, what do I know? Maybe there aren't.

The second negative is probably just me. For a long while at the beginning of the book I kept getting the feeling that the story was told in first person, and when I saw that it wasn't, that it was third person POV, I kind of thought it might have worked even better in first person.

Still, excellent book. My grade: an A-, and I'm off to reread The Murders of Richard III. That one's from 1974, over 20 years after The Daughter of Time was published, so maybe there's something new there that I have forgotten.

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