Wednesday, 8 November 2000

Josephine Tey: The Daughter of Time (1951)

Edition: Penguin, 1954
Review number: 675

The idea for the setting of this famous detective novel was perhaps stimulated by a desire to imitate Mycroft Holmes rather than his better known brother. Tey was not by any means the first writer of a novel where the crime scene is never seen by the sleuth, who has to rely on reports rather than statements or forensic evidence. There is a minor series of stories by Baroness Orczy, for example; but it is Tey's novel which defines the subgenre. The Daughter of Time has been extensively admired and occasionally imitated, most notably by Colin Dexter.

Tey's sleuth Alan Grant is stuck in hospital; looking a pictures of faces to while away the time - he is interested in the reflection of the personality in the face - he becomes fascinated by Richard III, as shown in his best known portrait. Not seeing the monster who murdered his nephews in the picture, he begins to investigate, with the help of various friends who provide books, or spend time in the British Library.

The Daughter of Time is by no means the first vindication of Richard III - there is a fair amount of evidence suggesting Henry VII as the instigator of the deaths of the princes in the Tower of London - but it is certainly the best known. While never pretending to be an academic history, it does contain a lot of information, which is presented in a remarkably entertaining if somewhat one-sided manner.

The title is ironic, for the daughter of time is truth (the quotation is from Aulus Gallius, though he attributes it to someone else, saying he can't remember who), and time has tended to blacken Richard's reputation rather than reveal what many believe to be the truth. Perhaps if Shakespeare's play had never been written, it would have proved easier for campaigners to re-establish his reputation.

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