My mom could not be predicted. When I was in my early 20’s, she called up long distance (an expensive activity) and ordered me to read a certain book. Now. She heard about it from Gladys who got the recommendation from Jill and now that Mom had read it, I had to. This made no sense. Mom knew one or two women named Jill but neither of them usually recommended books and there was no Gladys I could think of. Mom explained to me she had received a letter from one of her favorite writers, Gladys Taber, where Ms. Taber had verified her friend, Jill, revered a book called The Daughter of Time. Based on that letter, mom borrowed the novel from the library and read it. Now, she ordered me to do the same.
This story might have ended there because I had developed the habit of ignoring Mom by then but my roommate, Stephanie was working at the college library so I asked her to pick up a copy of the book while she was on shift. When Stephanie got back that night, the book was in her hand. She looked up at me and said, “I’m on page 47. You can have it when I’m finished.”
Jill, Gladys, my mom and Stephanie were all right. The Daughter of Time, by Josephine Tey is a wonderful book, partly because it’s a story that breaks all the rules. It’s a detective story without any of the usual detective methods. And as for the mystery, well it is one and it isn’t. It’s hard to explain.
The detective is Inspector Alan Grant of Scotland Yard and the poor man is caught in hospital. (This is England, so there’s no “the” in front of hospital). He’s stuck in a bed with a broken bone and is slowly going nuts because there’s nothing new to think about. He knows how many cracks there are in his ceiling, he knows how his nurses will react to everything he says and worse yet, he knows the plots of all the unread books on his table because their authors aren’t coming up with new ideas. I love this observation on pop literature so much, I’m going to have to quote it:
"Did no one, any more, no one in all this wide world, change their record now and then?
Was everyone nowadays thrilled to a formula? Authors today wrote so much
to a pattern that their public expected it. The public talked about 'a
new Silas Weekley' or 'a new Lavinia Fitch' exactly as they talked about
'a new brick' or 'a new hairbrush'. They never said 'a new book by'
whoever it might be. Their interest was not in the book but in its
newness. They knew quite well what the book would be like."
If you are like me and tend to follow certain authors, you’ll agree there’s truth in that statement, but that’s all the more reason to try The Daughter of Time. There’s really no other book like it. Instead of going after a recent murderer, Inspector Grant studies the last years of the Plantagenet reign and the War of the Roses by looking at Richard III. Thanks to Thomas More’s history of Richard and the Shakespearean play based on the history, King Richard’s reputation is only slightly nicer than Hitler’s or Stalin’s. The mystery is not when Richard murdered his nephews but if he is guilty at all. And while this novel doesn’t cover every point in the debate, it certainly brings up evidence to suggest a miscarriage of justice has been ongoing for more than 500 years.
For a small novel that came out sixty odd years ago, it has caused some big ripples. There are societies in England and America about Richard inspired in part by this book and other writers such as Sharon Kay Penman and Elizabeth George have expanded on the ideas in Ms. Tey’s novel in building their own works. These societies were instrumental in locating the late king’s body last year and they’ve been part of the force ensuring his remains are now treated with respect. (Treatment his body didn’t get after the Battle of Bosworth)
The book has some humorous bits in it and the characters are wonderful but its longevity is based on an important point. If history is written by the winners, as Churchill said, how often can we believe history’s assessment of a fallen leader? Can an opponent ruin a lifetime of work and fair dealing with propaganda? Perhaps but Ms. Tey thought otherwise, given the title. You see, truth is The Daughter of Time.