A Mystery of History

“Truth is the daughter of time.” – Francis Bacon

Several months ago, I posted The History of Mystery on the Kill Zone blog, and I listed twelve examples of novels and authors that represented important milestones in the history of the genre. In his comment on that post, Dale Ivan Smith mentioned a book I had not considered: The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey. Dale pointed out that Ms. Tey’s novel had some very prestigious acclaim:  In 1990 it was voted number one in The Top 100 Crime Novels of All Time list compiled by the British Crime Writers’ Association.

Of course, with that endorsement, I had to read the book, and I was captivated by it. So much so that I asked Dale if he would co-write this post with me, and I’m deeply grateful that he agreed. Without further ado, join us in the Court of Literary Criticism as we examine two aspects of The Daughter of Time, a mystery of history.

SCENE I: THE COURTROOM

The judge banged her gavel, and the room fell silent. She allowed her gaze to slowly sweep across the crowded courtroom until every eye was firmly focused on her.

“It is said that truth is the daughter of time,” she announced in a commanding voice. She turned her head and peered over the rims of her glasses at the two people in the jury box. “Dale Ivan Smith and Kay DiBianca, you have been appointed to decide two issues related to this proverb.

“First, is Josephine Tey’s mystery, The Daughter of Time, truly the greatest crime novel of all time?

“Secondly, as discussed at length in the novel, is King Richard III of Great Britain guilty of the murder of his nephews Edward and Richard, also known as the Princes in the Tower?“

Then she read a summary of the book for the edification of the court.

The Daughter of Time is an ambitious novel that begins quietly, with Scotland Yard Inspector Alan Grant laid up in a hospital while recovering from a fall and unable to leave his bed. Failing to find books to entertain him, Grant is bored and irritable. But when his actress friend Marta presents him with a stack of images of various people, his talent for analyzing faces is aroused.

“He settles on a picture of a medieval prince and discovers it to be Richard III. He then begins to read about the monarch and his alleged murder of his nephews.

“Aided by a young American scholar, Grant begins a deep dive into the events surrounding the episode and concludes that Richard III was innocent of his nephews’ murder. He theorizes that the boys lived into the early 1500s and were murdered in secret on the orders of Henry VII, the man who became king after Richard III was slain at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485.”

The judge took off her reading glasses and addressed the two jurors. ”You may deliberate as long as you like. Please report back when you’ve accomplished your reading assignment and reached your verdicts.”

 

SCENE II: THE JURY ROOM

Kay: Okay. I read the book twice. How should we go about analyzing its quality?

Dale: I also read the book twice. Why don’t we list the various criteria we will judge the book on and write our opinions under each one?

The Setting

Kay: The entire novel takes place inside a hospital room. In that way, it reminded me of Rear Window which also takes place in one room. Did the author succeed in keeping your interest?

Dale: Yes. The hospital setting for the novel was literally the classic white room, but Tey infused it with detail, mainly by keeping us close to Grant, POV-wise, so that we were right there with him at all times as he lay in bed and stared at the cracks in the ceiling, listening to the sounds outside his room, and later, surrounded by books.

The Structure

Dale: The novel’s structure is one of its greatest strengths. Once Alan Grant begins his investigation from his hospital bed, the story unfolded, to my mind, like the classic murder mystery plot, with unexpected developments, setbacks, and even a ticking clock as time ran out. What did you think of the novel’s structure? Did you find it effective?

Kay: I liked Tey’s use of a story within a story. Although that’s not unique, investigating a historical event within a fictional book was particularly appealing to me.

The Characters

Kay: There were two sets of characters in this book: the fictional characters of Alan Grant and those around him, and the historical characters that include Richard III, Sir Thomas More, William Shakespeare, and others. I had a little trouble keeping up with all the historical Elizabeths, Henrys, and Georges, but I thought the fictional characters were well-constructed and engaging.

Dale: The fictional characters of Grant, Marta, Brent Carradine, and others were vividly drawn, especially through dialogue, and each was distinctive. The way she zeroed in on the mystery, starting with Richard III and the princes, and then moved through the numerous Woodvilles and other personages, let the reader become familiar with each. She kept her focus on Grant and Carradine’s views of these personages, with Grant’s detective inspector’s view of human nature bringing a pragmatic angle to how those people were viewed.

The Investigation

Dale: Tey was convincing in how she portrayed Grant and his investigation, which looked at who had motive for the murder other than Richard, and who stood to most benefit. His dogged determination to follow the investigation to wherever it led fit his modern detective’s mindset and approach.

Kay: The portrayal of Grant’s use of modern detective methods to investigate the alleged crime was clever and well done.

The Criticism of History Books

Kay: Josephine Tey went beyond the determination of Richard III’s culpability. Her real message was about the fallibility of history writings. Some of the examples that she wove into the story were eye-popping. Had you ever heard about Tonypandy before?

Dale: I had not heard of Tonypandy before. It was a terrific illustration of how historical myths arise, and how they can form narratives that serve those in power. By the same token, as someone with a degree in history, I found Grant’s depiction of Sir Thomas More’s historical account of the murders as biased and flawed a bit problematic, though great fun. I did enjoy Grant’s embrace of primary sources, and uncovering them with Carradine’s help was more exciting then I would have imagined.

Josephine Tey’s Style

Dale: Tey is a superb writer, with an evocative narrative style that brought the story to life. The dialogue is precise and equally evocative. An example taken at random: Grant, “If your two sons had been murdered by your brother-in-law, would you take a handsome pension from him?”

Kay: I admire Tey’s prose. One particularly amusing description of Mrs. Tinker leaving the hospital room: “When she had gone creaking away, in a shoes-and-corset concerto …”

***

Dale: I guess we’ve covered all the bases, and it’s time to report back to the judge. Are you ready?

Kay: Yes. Let’s go.

 

SCENE III: THE COURTROOM

Judge: Members of the jury, Dale Ivan Smith and Kay DiBianca, what is your verdict? Is The Daughter of Time the best crime novel ever written?

Dale: I can not declare it to be the best crime novel ever written, but it is certainly one of the very finest ones, for the way in which it unravels an ancient mystery, and the way it shows the police mindset being applied to solving that mystery.

Kay: How can you compare The Daughter of Time with Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None or Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep? All three books tell vastly different stories, but In each case, the style matches the narrative. Having said that, Tey’s novel deserves special consideration since it challenges the reader to discern truth out of the cacophony of information and misinformation we encounter in our lives. For me, that elevates The Daughter of Time to the #1 position. (Besides, I thought the title was brilliant.)

Judge: And how do you find the defendant, King Richard III? GUILTY or NOT GUILTY?

Dale: I find Richard III GUILTY as charged. My own research revealed that Sir Thomas More spoke with the sons of one of the alleged murderers, Miles Forest, using that as a the basis for his account. Both sons rose to very important positions in the Tudor court. Moreover, Richard III faced a serious rebellion in 1483 by supporters of young Edward IV, so he had additional reason to have the two princes put away, permanently. The politics of that age could be ruthless, and Richard III was very much a product of that time.

Kay: I find Richard III NOT GUILTY. There are other plausible explanations for the deaths of the two princes, and there is simply not enough evidence to prove Richard III’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Judge: Thank you, members of the jury, for your service. You are hereby dismissed.

“The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.” – Proverbs 18:17

So TKZers: Have you read The Daughter of Time? What novel would you recommend as the best mystery ever? Do you have an opinion on the validity of history books? Do you think Richard III is guilty or not guilty?

This entry was posted in Writing by Kay DiBianca. Bookmark the permalink.

About Kay DiBianca

Kay DiBianca is a former software developer and IT manager who retired to a life of mystery. She’s the award-winning author of three mystery novels, The Watch on the Fencepost, Dead Man’s Watch, and Time After Tyme. Connect with Kay on her website at https://kaydibianca.com.

19 thoughts on “A Mystery of History

  1. Have you read The Daughter of Time?
    Not that I recall.

    What novel would you recommend as the best mystery ever?
    The candidates are many. I loved And Then There Were None. I was also impressed with Curtain, and remember reading Death From a Top Hat. That was quite a while ago, and I’m still impressed.

    Do you have an opinion on the validity of history books?
    Based on the disparity of opinions in accounts of current events, I fear that older works are probably even less reliable. Enemies have been known to portray famous people as monsters, based on scant evidence, seeing them through the lens of their own Shadow. We see only the few surviving manuscripts, which means it’s very likely we may not have balanced information. I’m thinking in particular of Tiberius Claudius Nero, Emperor of Rome. He loathed “the games,” the Roman practice of slaughtering criminals and disbelievers* in the arena to entertain the masses. His enemies didn’t see this as proof of Tiberius’s nobility, but merely as evidence he was “squeamish,” and accused him of many crimes.

    Do you think Richard III is guilty or not guilty?
    Based on some Quasi**-scientific analysis, I lean towards the conclusion that Shakespeare got it right. People with low self-esteem are especially dangerous, because they often project their self-image on others, with deadly results. (Read Hitler’s opinion of his 14-year-old self in Mein Kampf, for example. “incredible ignorance… cynical impudence… an attitude towards morality which is really startling…”)
    In summation, I’ll quote the caption of an old courtroom cartoon from The New Yorker: “Your Honor, we find the defendant very, very guilty.”

    * Christians, among other accusations, didn’t believe that Caesar was a god and refused to burn even a tiny, little pinch of incense in worship of him. Like the Jews, they were just one god away from being total atheists.
    ** Ha-ha, JSB!

    • “Your Honor, we find the defendant very, very guilty.” Very, very funny.

      Richard isn’t doing so well in the TKZ Court. However, if you read the book, you may change your vote. 🙂

      The score so far:
      Guilty – 3
      Not guilty – 1

  2. Wow, Kay and Dale, what a unique, entertaining approach!

    You proved beyond a reasonable doubt that The Daughter of Time is a book I have to read.

    • Good morning, Debbie!

      Dale and I thought it would be fun to take a new and (hopefully) creative approach to the post. Dale was delightful to work with.

      “You proved beyond a reasonable doubt that The Daughter of Time is a book I have to read.” 🙂

    • Thanks, Debbie! I owe my friend and former library colleague Jan (our former mystery maven at the Hillsdale Branch library) a debt of gratitude for recommending this novel to me.

      I really enjoyed collaborating with Kay, she was also a delight to work with 🙂

  3. Nicely done, Kay and Dale!

    I love novels and historicals from this era. I’ve read about the Princes in the Tower, and have always believed His Majesty King Richard III was guilty as sin. I haven’t, however, read Daughter of Time; but I doubt I’d change my vote.

    My vote: Guilty as Sin! 🙂

  4. Richard III is an interesting study and a perfect villain, a malign and ugly hunchback.

    Of course Bill Shakespeare had the best story ever written on the subject and that set the tone for what followed. It is said that Shakespeare’s rendition of this violent tale was based on what Sir Thomas More wrote, and that, says the Richard III Society, was all a Tudor plot to discredit Richie with propaganda after he was dead and gone.

    That’s what they say and nobody can disabuse them of that point of view.

    Langley’s “The King’s Grave” is a great exponent of the Tudorist conspiracy theory of things.

    There’s a great rendition on youtube of the movie “Richard III” starring Ian McKellen and it is set in prewar Britain. As the story progresses, the symbolic resemblance of the adherents of Richard III to naziism becomes more apparent. It’s got Spanish subtitles I think but they’re easily enough ignored.

    Shakespeare’s immortal last line of the play, “A horse! My kingdom for a horse!” casts Richard III as a man willing to give up all that he had gained through violence and legerdemain to make his escape from the field and thus is shown (in the story, anyway) as a coward.

    What Langley has illustrated is that Richard III was a very hard man to kill, and he was afflicted with severe scoliosis, or curvature of the spine. Beyond that, there’s plenty to be read on the subject, and the bare bones of the story make Richard III seem kind of like a mid century crime boss along the lines of John “Johnny Boy” Gotti.

    I’m saying, guilty but not proven.

    I’ve got The Daughter Of Time on the TBR stack as we speak. Can’t say what I think the best mystery ever written was because I haven’t read them all.

    • Thanks for this background information, Robert. A lot of what we thought we knew about Richard III is wrong.

      I’m glad you put The Daughter of Time on your TBR list. Let me know what you think after you’ve read it.

      I’m putting your vote in the Guilty column. Here’s the score so far:

      Guilty – 5
      Not Guilty – 1

  5. Hurrah! A TKZ post about a book I’ve read (2 maybe 3 times) and loved. Also, I’m English so the history was very familiar to me. Thank you, Dale and Kay, for bringing this excellent book to a wider audience.

    As to it being the best crime/mystery novel, I can’t say. The opening chapter is certainly the best opening I’ve ever read. The Daughter of Time is certainly up there in my top 5, though it’s a tussle between that and Christies 5 Little Pigs for the top spot.

    Was Richard 111 guilty?
    I used to think so until I read Daughter of Time. Now I’m a strident advocate of his innocence.

    PS Far be it from me to gainsay my favourite writing guru, but Richard was not a hunchback. He had one shoulder higher than the other due to scoliosis of the spine – but Shakespeare’s depiction is the one everyone (erroneously) remembers.

    • Hello, Lynda. So glad to see you here on TKZ. I’m an American with an English background. Maybe that’s one reason this book resonated with me.

      Like you, I accepted the “fact” that Richard III had murdered his nephews because that’s all I knew. Shakespeare had turned him into a monster, and who could argue with the bard? After having read The Daughter of Time, however, I believe it more likely that Richard was innocent.

      I’m grateful for your vote. (I was beginning to feel lonely!) Here’s the current score:

      Guilty – 5
      Not Guilty – 2

    • Thanks so much for commenting, Lynda. I have English heritage among my ancestry, with the traced line going back to the 15th century, and I have an undergraduate degree in history, but in East Asian history, and didn’t know much about the period. Researching for the post with Kay was enlightening 🙂

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