Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey

The snow was falling, adding on to the bush high depths outside. I selected The Daughter of Tey to accompany my large cup of Green Tea and decided that when the snow stopped I'd venture beyond the warmth of my house. They'd be ample time to shovel.

I recalled being totally confused when once studying the War of Roses and hoped that Tey didn't dwell on that particular period. My plans, cancelled because of the icy conditions, gave me the luxury of settling into the book.

As Bacon wrote: "Truth is the daughter of time, not of authority." With these words as the ballast—the story unfolds. Inspector Grant, of Scotland Yard, had the misfortune of falling through a trap door and thus finds himself flat on his back in a hospital bed. He amuses himself by staring at the ceiling patterns and growing increasingly grumpy. His actress friend, Marta, knowing that Grant is considered somewhat of an expert when it comes to faces, brings him a stack of portraits.

At first he can find no single portrait of interest, but when he sees a portrait of Richard III his interest is piqued. Richard has been vilified by history and is depicted as an evil man who murdered his two nephews in order to assure his ascent to the throne.

When Grant reads the portrait he sees in the artist's likeness of Richard III quite a different character. Instead of the evil qualities usually attributed to him, Grant imagines him as a much maligned character in history. Even the physical description of Richard as a hunchback has no validity.

Since he is confined to lying on his back on a hospital bed he must do all the research through books. He even solicits the opinion of two of his nurses—what did they think of Richard III?. They parrot what they have read in their "normal" school texts. They assert that the nephews were smothered with a pillow by someone who took orders from Richard. One nurse had kept all of her school books and he borrows her history text where the same story appears as "truth".

He asks Marta to bring him two heavy tomes—one was written by Sir Thomas More. Later on he realizes that More is a contemporary of Henry VIII and whatever he wrote was not a first hand account.

The story really gets into gear when Marta introduces him to Carradine, an American researcher for the British Museum. Carradine is immediately fascinated with Grant's hypothesis — Richard III never murdered his nephews —nor anyone else. While Grant remains prone on his bed he directs the investigation. Carradine becomes his legs and researcher.

All of the stories are simply Tudor propaganda—but this must be proved. When all the names were thrown out on the page, like laying down the gauntlet, I found myself putting the book down and doing my own research. I forgot about the snow as I looked up the women who were mentioned, the regal lines, Bill of Attainder, and even a bit about that War of Roses.

Grant builds up his case for proving the innocence of Richard III. The hunt for evidence so fascinates Carradine that he plans to write a book about their findings. Along the way there is a discussion about how the veracity of historical events may be a distance from the reality. Once a story gains momentum it is often difficult to present another version. The story becomes accepted as truth and to pry it away from its moorings is difficult.

Someone conversant with the research pointed out that Tey doesn't use all the research relevant to the case—but the facts she does employ certainly suggest that the case is far more complex and there's a good possibility that the boys were alive when HenryVII ascended the throne.

By the end of the novel Grant is able to leave the hospital—but still must remain in a reclining position for a half a day.

A number of other writers have used the framework of Richard's reign and the story of the nephews disappearance as the plot line for their own novels.

Even when shoveling my mind was wrapped around the machinations of royalty.

Vintage Mystery Challenge


  1. This is one of my very favorites by Tey. Thanks for reading and highlighting it! I've got it posted!