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The Daughter of Time

by Josephine Tey
Series: Inspector Alan Grant #5
206 pages, Mystery
Reviewed by Jeanne

Historically provocative and a landmark work among mysteries, but can be tedious and abrasive.

Plot

Scotland Yard Inspector Alan Grant has been laid up in a hospital bed for only a few days, and already he is thoroughly tired of being on his back and staring at the ceiling. Hoping to divert his mind the good old-fashioned way, a friend brings him a jumble of portraits featuring men and women from famous historical "cold cases": Mary, Queen of Scots; Lucrezia Borgia; Louis XVII; and a face that immediately catches Grant's attention: Richard III. Intrigued by the personality revealed in that painting, Grant begins an investigation, from his hospital bed, into one of the greatest mysteries in English history: Did Richard III, the last Plantagenet monarch, murder his nephews the Princes in the Tower?

Morality

Not very much. Grant takes a cold, level-headed, almost cynical view of humanity - and, as his investigation goes on, of historians in particular. Blatant lies in the name of propaganda are frequently brought up, always in fiercely negative terms. The presence of bias in historical analyses is discussed, a little ironically, since Grant admits to being biased in favor of Richard III. Naturally the question of murder forms the underpinning of the story.

Spiritual Content

Grant and his friend Carradine talk derogatorily about the Scottish Covenanters and the martyrdom of Margaret Wilson in 1685, which they claim to be a myth. Also discussion of a woman accused of witchcraft.

Violence

Again, the theory that Richard III ordered that his nephews be smothered to death is the major question of the story. Various executions and battles are recounted, including the Battle of Bosworth and Richard III's fate. Henry VII's "bumping off" of various contenders to the throne is also explored. Various misrepresented events in history are referenced, including the Boston Massacre, the Tonypandy Riot of 1910, and the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots.

Drug and Alcohol Content

Wine is mentioned, as is the legend perpetuated by Shakespeare that Richard III drowned his brother Clarence in a vat of wine.

Sexual Content

The womanizing tendencies of Richard III's brother Edward are talked of, as are illegitimate children. A couple references to "cold" women. Things are stated bluntly, but in passing.

Crude or Profane Language or Content

"D*mn" and variations are occasionally used, as well as other British oaths ("bl****"): Grant and Carradine get quite excitable in their research. "B******" is used correctly.

Conclusion

Considered one of the best mystery novels ever written and frequently referenced by subsequent authors, "The Daughter of Time" also helped spark a desire to rehabilitate the character of Richard III. That is, in fact, the thrust of the story: to show, through a modern-day police investigation, that the case against Richard holds no water. Tey does not approach the problem as a historian, though she does bring up numerous historical quotes and facts, and is in error with several points, but she does make her case. Some readers agree, some readers thoroughly do not, but certainly putting the theories in novel form have helped to disseminate them.

Tey's case is really the thrust of this book, and as such, the dialogue (the story takes place entirely in the hospital room, so it is dialogue-driven) can be very heavy-handed. It isn't just a nice who-done-it? It is a real mystery, a real cold case, with a real person who may or may not have done the deed. I don't advise it for someone with little interest in history or in this period of history (15th Century England); even for myself, enjoying that as I do, the book could be frankly boring. Tey restates facts with patient detail - helpful if you don't know the time period, tedious if you do - and the ferocity of her opinions as voiced through her characters can be abrasive.

Certainly the book has to be taken with several grains of salt. But, on the other hand, it is a landmark work in the mystery genre and it has had quite an impact on how people look at history. For those two things, "The Daughter of Time" is worth reading and considering - and weighing against more creditable authors.

Note: The title is taken from a quote by Francis Bacon: "Truth is the daughter of time, not of authority." I should very much have liked to know that before I began reading; I spent two thirds of the book wondering who on earth was meant to be the daughter of Time.

Fun Score: 2.5
Values Score: 3
Written for Age: adult

Review Rating:

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