When historical novel lovers get to talking about books and about Richard III, inevitably the novel The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey will be mentioned. This classic, first published in 1951, is a detective story of sorts, but it’s difficult to pigeonhole it into the historical mystery genre. It’s almost more of a research paper disguised as a novel–but well-disguised. Tey is able to use the hunches or instinct of a detective as a cover for bias in a way that a historical researcher wouldn’t (or shouldn’t.) Presented as a detective digging through clues, the solving of a historical unknown is not only fun, but convincing.
The protagonist is not contemporary to the crime; he is "present day" Inspector Alan Grant of Scotland Yard. Injured while chasing a criminal, he is stuck in a hospital recuperating and the boredom is driving him crazy. A friend who knows his skill at analyzing faces brings him a stack of portraits from historical figures whose careers were associated with unanswered questions so that he might delve into a mystery from the past. Skeptical at first, he nevertheless digs through the pile. He comes across an unnamed portrait and is struck by the sober honesty and suffering in the face. It puts him in mind of a judge. Grant is shocked to discover the portrait is that of Richard III–the evil monster who murdered his nephews, the princes in the tower. Grant is usually a much better judge of faces and he resolves to learn more about Richard III, to figure out how he could have been so wrong about the face.
Although confined to a hospital bed, Inspector Grant has a fair amount of secondhand mobility. He is able to interview the nurses who care for him and a couple of visitors who come to see him, learning more about Richard and the history of the time, things he had been taught himself but had forgotten and things he had never been taught. It’s a wonderful device for instructing the reader but it can only go so far. The friend who brought him the portraits then sends him a young researcher who doggedly digs up more information, becoming as excited about the project as is Grant.
The two are biased by their own hunches, but build a convincing case based on the material they present and on they arguments they pull together. Richard would not have killed his nephews. They find a more likely murderer.
With the recent discovery of Richard III’s bones, the controversy has been awakened once again. Did he or didn’t he? What did happen to the princes? Just what kind of a king was Richard? He has his supporters and detractors, each with strong arguments. The Daughter of Time may be a novel, but it is so entertaining and Grant’s certainty is so convincing, you’ll likely find yourself on Richard’s side by the end of it, no matter if you tell yourself it’s fiction or not.
I’ve had this book on my shelf for years, and finally read it for the 2013 TBR pile challenge hosted by Roof Beam Reader. I’m counting it toward the historical fiction challenge hosted by Historical Tapestry as well.