Monday, November 9, 2009

Review: The Daughter of Time


Title:  The Daughter of Time

Author:   Josephine Tey

Favorite Line:  ...perhaps a series of small satisfactions scattered like sequins over the texture of everyday life was of greater worth than the academic satisfaction of owning a collection of fine objects at the back of a drawer.

Note:  In doing these reviews, I've realized how many different publishers and page lengths some books can have, so I'm getting rid of publisher information for older books, and only using it for the newer releases where it may actually matter.


Plot Summary:
Inspector Grant of the Scotland Yard is hospitalized for a leg injury, and the bed rest is driving him crazy.  His friend Marta suggests that he start looking into historical mysteries- unsolved cases from hundreds of years before that he can prove one way or another.  She gives him several portraits of historic personages, but the one that draws his attention is a portrait of a thoughtful, somewhat sickly man whom he thinks must be a judge or minister of some sort.  Instead, he realizes, it is a portrait of the reviled King Richard III.  He wonders how someone with such a kind and worried face can have such a horrible reputation of killing his two nephews so that he can take the throne of England for himself.  With the help of an eager young American, Brent Carradine, who works at the British Museum, he goes back through archives, contemporary writings, motives and political maneuvers.  He finds that it's unlikely Richard III killed his nephews- and that history is full of completely untrue "rallying cries."  Events that never occurred or were reported erroneously but that took on a life of their own.


Josephine Tey's work about a detective setting about to prove Richard III's innocence is pretty well-known.  It is also a very different sort of approach to the mystery of the Princes in the Tower.  Instead of writing a long treatise setting out each minute point about Richard's motives, Tey's detective focuses first on Richard's personality.  First- pretty much everyone liked him.  He was a really great leader, well-respected.  He also was extremely loyal to his older brother Edward, the king (and the father of the princes who were lost).  Thus, to Inspector Grant, it was unlikely just based on his background that Richard would have murdered his own nephews.  He strengthens his point by determing where Richard was and what he was doing in the dramatic period after his older brother's death.

The book was a bit confusing to me at times.  It was written in the 1950s in England and so some of the slang and the references were hard for me to understand.  Also, there are just so many Plantaganets (or there were, at least, before Henry Tudor came to the throne and they became an endangered species).  And then there are the hangers-on, the in-laws, the other aristocrats, the Church.  It was hard to keep them all straight.  The story is also written as a pretty rapid-fire conversation between Grant and Carradine- so they'd be discussing one aspect of the mystery, and then would jump to a different aspect and I'd sometimes get confused.

The book reiterated to me why I love history and historical fiction.  People act as though history is static and unchanging- but it's always written by the victors and always with some agenda.  While reading this book, I was reminded so much of Lies My Teacher Told Me, a book written about all the things Americans learn in school about American history that are just blatantly incorrect or misleading.  It's scary how national pride and patriotism can blind people and make them unwilling to hear anything negative- or not even negative, but just different- about the things they hold true.  And those just snowball and snowball so that, a hundred years later, people accept as fact something that started as a vicious and baseless rumor.

I love that Tey sets out in her book to disprove one "historical fact" and invigorates people to do their own research and not accept things as gospel just because they are repeated often and loudly.  And it's great that Richard III has so many supporters now.  After reading Sharon Kay Penman's The Sunne in Splendour, I became a huge fan of his and now I'm even more of one!

19 comments:

  1. Though I love history ,I have started reading historical fiction recently and I stunned by the choices that I have. I must been really stupid to have ignored this genre for so long :) This book sounds really good.

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  2. This sounds really good and I've heard it proclaimed from the rooftops as being one of the best in its genre. I'm going to look out for it. I learned all about the Princes in the Tower at school so I'm interested to see how Tey portrays Richard. Great review!

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  3. Shona, let me know if you would like suggestions for histfic- if you tell me a period, I could let you know what I've read or heard about in that timeframe. I love historical fiction, so I could help :-)

    Rachel- thanks! Let me know if you find it, and when you read it, what you think. It might be easier if you are more familiar with all the major players during the period.

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  4. Wow! This book is definitely going on my reading list. I'm very interested in the Plantagenets and haven't yet read any Tey. Thanks for your thoughtful review.

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  5. You've been splashed with an award!

    http://mindingspot.blogspot.com/2009/11/mermaid-award.html

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  6. Sounds like a good book. Nice review Aarti

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  7. This looks like a great follow up to The Sunne in Splendor. Yay Aarti!

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  8. This sounds like a great read. :)

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  9. I've had an old copy of this one as well that I need to get to somehow. Every time I read a Richard novel I change my opinion. I'm a flip-flopper on the princes theories. And I definitely concur regarding the Richards and Dukes and Lords and Edwards.. oh my! Gotta have your thinking cap for one of these reads.
    And to jump in my spaceship and jump ahead to Victorian times.. LOL.. thanks for the heads up on Heyer and the loosely based trilogy. I would have been supremely pissed to not have had the opportunity to read them in order! If I read them out of order I want to do that on purpose =)

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  10. My copy of this arrived today! Though now I'm worried, because if the 50's language confused you then it'll confuse me too for sure. But it definitely sounds worth reading regardless! And since it's slimmer than I expected, I think I'll get to it soon :D

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  11. I've vaguely heard this title before, but never seen a review. Now I'm really interested!

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  12. I, too, had never read a review of this book. It sounds like something I would really like, and I am sadly out of the loop when it comes to Richard and his nephews. I have read a lot about Henry VIII and all the various wives, but not so much about this story. I really liked your comment that Plantagenets became rare after Henry (heehee! Isn't that the truth!) I am thinking about adding this book to my list because I really trust your recommendations, and it would fill a space in my knowledge about that period of time. Great review, I'll definitely be digging a little further!

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  13. I read and reviewed this book a while ago and really enjoyed it!

    The thing that I found incredibly amusing though was the fact that the inspector was laid up in hospital for weeks so was able to do this investigation from the hospital! These days he would be out in a day or two with a broken leg! LOL!

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  14. I enjoyed Daughter of Time way back when I read it.

    Paul Murray Kendall wrote a nice pro-Richard biography. He's the one I believe. ;)

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  15. Your line about the Plantagenets being an endangered species cracked me up. Great review.

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  16. My mom and I both read this a few years ago and enjoyed it. It's so different from everything else that Tey wrote -- even though it features her detective.

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  17. I'm glad you enjoyed this one because I have it to read! :-)

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  18. Now that sounds wonderful. I read The Sunne in Splendour very young, and so I am very much in the pro Richard camp to this day!

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  19. I read this book a number of years ago, way before I read Sunne in Splendour. I loved Sunne but I had a hard time staying awake while reading this book. I wonder if I had read Sunne first if I would have liked this book better.

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