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.
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.
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!