The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey is generally credited as being one of the best written mysteries of all time. In 1990, the British Crime Writers Association put out The Top 100 Crime Novels of All Time and named this 1951 book as the best crime novel ever. The Mystery Writers of America compiled their own list in 1995, The Top 100 Mystery Novels of All Time, which named this book number four.
Detective Inspector Alan Grant is stuck in the hospital with a broken leg, bored to tears. People keep bringing him books, but they don’t satisfy. Grant’s actress friend Marta Hallard comes to cheer him up, but Grant refuses to find anything positive from any of her suggestions. He even stays negative when she suggests solving a mystery from his bed. But then the next day Marta brings a whole bunch of pictures to interest the detective known for his acumen in interpreting faces. Nothing draws his attention until he sees one that fell aside. Upon learning that this gentle face belongs to Richard III, Grant becomes passionate to discover how this evil dictator went from his more sensitive self to the monster of his current reputation.
Grant’s challenge is to get to the original sources, so Marta sends him “a woolly lamb,” the American sweetheart of her co-star who is doing research at the British Museum as an excuse to stay in London. Brent Carradine becomes Grant’s research assistant, locating every document that Grant sends him to locate. Together, the two of them trace the life of Richard III from start to finish, discovering strange acts that don’t seem to fit with the “known” events. Together, the pair come to the conclusion that “history is bunk” as they locate so many instances of history’s having been misrepresented in history books. Grant points to the Tonypandy Riots of 1910, which the Welsh see as a major massacre despite the fact that the British police were unarmed and no one died. Soon he begins to use the term Tonypandy to refer to any form of historical misrepresentations.
Though The Daughter of Time was not the first document to clear Richard III’s name, it had a significant influence in affecting public opinion about the so-called monster’s guilt. Not only does the book work to show the innocence of Richard III, but it takes a perspective as that of a police detective investigating the king’s guilt. Grant questions who might benefit from the murders of the two young princes in the tower and creates his own answer to the question.
Further, the book deals with the nature of academic research. It shows us the process of doing original research, which I find fascinating. It takes us step by step through their entire process of determining which sources to look for and then seeing what they have to say.
But the book also makes a strong comment about the way things that we sometimes have believed as given can be completely inaccurate. It further teaches us things to look for to avoid Tonypandy (which, remember, Grant turns into a verb to mean rewriting history). Grant and Carradine talk about the importance of using direct transcripts and not just someone’s account. Sir Thomas More is generally credited with having written the definitive account of Richard III, but he was only eight when Richard died, and his mentor, Morten, was one of Richard’s chief opponents. Thus we can recognize that More was not the impartial reporter that he represents himself to be. However, the book also demonstrates how hard it is to change public opinion about an accepted “truth.”
Some readers may find The Daughter of Time to be a challenge to follow. It does make use of 600-year-old British history, which some readers might find complicated to follow, especially if they know nothing about British history. The action of the entire book takes place in the hospital room of Inspector Grant. One might expect this fact to cause the book to become boring, but I thought it worked really well.
Derek Jacobi performs the audiobook of The Daughter of Time, which had to have been a challenge for him to make exciting, since there are few characters and long stretches of dialogue. However, he does an excellent job, with interpreting the speakers to make them distinct and to keep this book that has the potential to get confusing instead to be fascinating.
I really appreciated The Daughter of Time and found it highly fascinating. I don’t know how someone with less interest in academic research and history would view this book. I’m not sure that I would vote it the best mystery novel ever written, but it certainly deserves high accolades. I give the book five stars!
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