Monday, May 1, 2017

Book Review: The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey

The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey

Alan Grant is a Scotland Yard Inspector who is hospitalized with a broken leg. Various friends and acquaintances come to see him but he is rather bored--until one friend brings some portraits including one of Richard III, famous for his infamy. Grant doesn't immediately recognize Richard's contemporary portrait. Grant thinks that this person is more likely to be a judge than to be a criminal. His curiosity gets the better of him and he begins a historical investigation of the case for Richard killing his nephews in the Tower and his other alleged atrocities. He is aided by a young American researcher who gathers plenty of evidence from the past to clear up the mystery of the boys and why Richard has been vilified in history and popular culture.

Having recently read a more in-depth telling of George Washington's and Benedict Arnold's experiences during the American Revolution, this book is not so surprising to me in its anti-populist attitude toward received ideas about historical events. Grant's investigation leads him to see Richard as a fine administrator, a strong soldier, and a compassionate governor. If anything, he was too compassionate and forgiving of his enemies, who made him and his family into villains after his death. Grant and his helper uncover the many inconsistencies and deceptions that have gained traction in popular understanding. Closer scrutiny shows an entirely different picture. The truth is out there and needs a little digging (sometimes a lot of digging) to uncover.

This book is a work of fiction. But, having recently read an even-handed account of Richard's life, I can attest to the many details described in this book, such as St. Thomas More's propagandistic biography of Richard or the fact that if Richard really wanted to secure his throne he would have had to kill a lot of other family members who were in line after the nephews. And there's no way he was a hunchback with a withered arm AND fought many battles valiantly and victoriously. So this book is not a whitewashing of Richard.

The investigation format of the narrative makes the history much more interesting than a dry historical analysis would be. The writing is sharp and witty in the best style of the 1940s and 1950s British detective novels. The book is both fun and informative and well worth reading. Highly recommended!

The book is also the topic of discussion on Episode 156 of A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast. Check it out!

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