[book review] Josephine Tey: The Daughter of Time

tey hospital bed man
No, Inspector Grant, you can’t get a hunchback from reading about it …

Is this the ultimate ‘cold case’?

The Daughter of Time arrives with some hefty baggage in terms of its critical reception.

Some forty years after it was published, Tey’s novel received several accolades – not least of these was topping a poll of all-time Crime Novels, by the British Crime-Writers Association: and that’s up against personal favourites like Chandler, Christie, James M Cain and others.

In his fifth outing, Inspector Alan Grant is laid up in hospital for a spell, restless and unsatisfied by the pile of ‘airport novels’ given him by well-wishers.  Inspired by a friend and with a cast of helpers (in a manner imitated by Colin Dexter in The Wench is Dead), Grant sets out to solve a crime from his hospital bed: the infamous murder of the princes in The Tower.  Did Richard III do it, or not?

It is truth, it seems, that is the ‘daughter of time’.  The Merchant of Venice tells us that:

‘at the length truth will out’ [a]

and Grant attempts to sift the truth out of the rumour, speculation, conflicting accounts and downright propaganda that surrounds Richard.

The novel is really interesting: logical, persuasive, leanly written and with a sense of journey to it.  There’s also a fun meta-fiction angle which I won’t spoil.  If I had any complaints it’s that I didn’t take at all to one of the characters; that it’s a little of its time and very of its class (although that might be me, not Tey).  A few times a pedantic streak for correct grammar has characters speaking with a clumsiness that woke me out of my engagement with the narrative.

Can I see where the accolades come from?  Ye-es.  It’s a meditation on truth, and history, which has a depth that is missing from plenty of other crime novels.  It might not –quite– be my favourite, but I enjoyed it on several levels.


[a] http://www.opensourceshakespeare.org


Author: Boar's Head, Eastcheap

Hyperactive English Teacher and Tutor; Shakespeare-obsessed 'Villainous abominable misleader of youth'; 'old white-bearded Satan'; Friend of the Orangutan

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