REVIEW: The Daughter of Time

Advance warning: I could wax lyrical about this book for days.

I first read The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey when I was about 16 or 17 (about 40 years ago). Somewhere along the way I lost my copy but I came across it again in a charity shop a few weeks ago and could not believe my luck.

Devouring it for the second time I remembered why I loved it so much.

Josephine Tey was a pen name of Scottish author Elizabeth MacKintosh, born in 1896. She also used the pseudonym Gordon Daviot.

She wrote eight novels as Josephine Tey – six of them, including this one, involving Inspector Alan Grant – and three novels, one biography and dozens of stage, radio and television plays as Daviot.

She was romantically attached to a soldier who died at the Battle of the Somme during the First World War and never married. When she died in 1952 all proceeds from her books were left to the National Trust.

The Daughter of Time was first published in 1951 and was the last of her books to be published during her lifetime although another was found among her belongings after she died and was published posthumously.

This book is just incredible. It’s clever, thought-provoking and full of twists and turns. You don’t even have to take my word for it. In 1990 the British Crime Writers’ Association named this as the greatest crime novel OF ALL TIME. In 1995 it was placed fourth in The Mystery Writers of America’s top 100 mystery novels of all time.

Why was it such a success? I think that’s because, although this is fiction, we are dealing with a real crime here; a very old cold case and some very contradictory evidence and statements.

Tey’s intrepid Inspector Grant has fallen through a floor and broken his leg. He is laid flat on a bed, unable to get up, in a hospital room and is bored senseless.

A actress friend tells him he ought to look at some historical mysteries and try to solve those as cold cases and brings in some pictures of some that might take his fancy because the Inspector prides himself on being able to read faces. He discards most of them as uninteresting and then comes across a picture from the National Gallery that he is drawn to.

He sees a strong, benevolent face he feels would be more suited to being a judge than a criminal and discovers it is the face of Richard III, the hunchback king who stole his brother’s throne from the rightful successors – Edward IV’s two young sons – and then murdered the youngsters.

But he doesn’t look evil and he certainly doesn’t look disabled in the portrait. So he wants to find out more.

Because of his restriction of movement a young American researcher at the British Museum is roped in to help him and undertake studies of the materials in the museum as well as sourcing books for Grant to study from his sickbed. He goes through the evidence presented to him as he would the evidence in any other crime and makes his determinations.

The Daughter of Time – the title, by the way, is from an old proverb Truth is the daughter of time – reaches a conclusion on Richard III but also acts as a lesson to everyone.

Before you believe everything you read or are told, you have to consider several things. Under what circumstances is the information being given? Who is the person giving the information and what are there reasons? Is the information directly from an eye witness? If not, how many times has it been retold before it comes to you? Are there any other circumstances which may induce the writer/speaker to give that information? What is not being written/said?

In essence this book is about not believing everything you are told per say and in checking facts. I wonder if this book influenced my career as a journalist? I hope it did.

Shakespeare described Richard III has a hunchback and a cripple. And that image of the man who was King for just two years is one that has passed down the ages. But Shakespeare wrote in the time of Henry VIII, son of Henry VII who won the Battle of Bosworth Field and tried to discredit Richard after his death. Henry VII’s claim to the throne of England was tenuous to say the least and so attempts to make his predecessor seem cruel, evil and incapable of running the country were grabbed with both hands.

We now know that Richard III had scoliosis which probably made one shoulder higher than the other but he certainly wasn’t deformed in the way he was depicted.

And if that wasn’t true, what else may have been distorted for the new Tudor rulers?

Read The Daughter of Time and you will never look at historical ‘facts’ in the same way again.

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