A Book Ian Likes: The Daughter Of Time by Josephine Tey

A police detective is laid-up in hospital after capturing a villain and to wile away the time he devotes himself to solving one of the most famous mysteries in history: what happened to the princes in the tower?

At first, Alan Grant (the detective and possibly Ms Tey’s most famous character) finds himself following the line that history spins him, that their uncle, Richard of Gloucester, aka Richard III, king of England, murdered the boys. But a bit of digging under the carpet of history manages to change his mind for him…

Josephine Tey (pseudonym of Elizabeth MacKintosh died not long after this book was published, and it has been long regarded as possibly her finest and best-loved novel. Detective Alan Grant appeared in other books of hers, but here he partakes of a case that really stretches his abilities.

And the way the story unfolds is astonishing: Grant applies his investigative skills, honed by years in Scotland Yard, to this historical mystery much as he would any other crime. Which is what makes the story so interesting to the reader: if Tey had presented her findings as a history text she would not have reached so wide an audience.

So we have Grant questioning the veracity of the historical accounts (applying modern-day legal concepts like hearsay) and the motive of certain historians in defaming the name of Richard. And he takes his investigations as far as he can…

Reading this book now, more than sixty years after it was written you can’t help but be struck at how modern it is. Other books by other authors from that time have dated awfully (and there are some pretty telling barbs at contemporary writing in there as well which just prove that literary fashions will probably never change), but apart from a couple of references to “His Majesty” and “Princess Elizabeth”, it feels, well, new. Which is the mark of the true classic.

I first heard about this book from my British History teacher in Year 11. It was one of those books that I thought I would never get around to reading because it sounded worthy and dry and dusty and because she and a couple of my classmates said that it was a wonderful book. Not that I didn’t respect their opinions, but you know how it is when someone goes out of their way to recommend something: you never really want to try it. So I forgot about it and a couple of years later I went to a garage sale and it was there in a box for a dollar. There was nothing else in there that interested me and the lady of the house was frowning at the big heap of airport novels I’d made on her porch so I decided I’d better buy something.

The other thing that is amazing about it is that the entire story takes place in a hospital ward. Some of the characters go out and do research for Grant, or report back to him, or bring him things, but the entire body of the novel takes place in that one setting. Now, Ms Tey was known as a playwright as well as a novelist (in fact she has a cheeky jab at one of her own plays during the course of this book), so one can only speculate that this novel may well have made a transition to the stage at some time in the future had not the author’s untimely death deprived us of it.

You can buy a particularly beautiful edition of The Daughter Of Time here: https://www.foliosociety.com/au/the-daughter-of-time.html (I am a member of The Folio Society but I get no commission from them: I just love their books)

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