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Bibliophile reviews The Daughter of Time (mystery)

Author: Josephine Tey
Series detective: Inspector Alan Grant
No. in series: 5 of 6
Year of publication: 1951
Type of mystery: Murder, historical
Type of investigator: Professional, aided by an amateur
Setting & time: A hospital in England, 1950's
Some themes: History, regicide

Story: Inspector Grant is lying in bed, recovering from a broken leg and other injuries sustained while trying to capture a criminal. He suffers from boredom until an old friend suggests he try working out some unsolved murder. A portrait of Richard III and people’s comment that the picture looks more like the image of a victim or a judge than a cold-blooded killer gives him interest in trying to discover the true events behind the mystery of the princes in the Tower , possibly the most notorious regicide in the history of England. He needs someone to do research for him, and with the help of a friend he enlists the aid of a young historian who starts ploughing through old documents in search of the truth.

While the characters in the modern part of the story are all fictional, the historical stuff in the story is all about real people and real events and the research is all real. Tey seems to have chosen to publish the deductions she and others had made about the events in a fictional setting, as it really is impossible to say anything for certain about what really happened so long after the events took place. Others have tried to do the same thing in learned essays and books and have failed to reach a convincing conclusion.

Review: Trying to review what some have called the best murder mystery ever written is a daunting task, but I will try anyway.

In terms of detection, it is undoubtedly a masterpiece. We get to see the detective’s mind at work on the case from beginning to end – which is more than we do in many mysteries because few authors have the skill to allow us to see all that goes on in the sleuth’s mind without giving away the villain too soon. We see how Grant gathers evidence for and against his hypothesis, how he follows his clues and makes his deductions from them step by logical step. On the other hand, the story is short of action, most of the interesting characters are dead (meaning we only get to know about their personalities from what can be deduced from historical papers – which isn’t much), and one has to be interested in the subject to get up any kind of enthusiasm for it. This, for me, is the story’s weakest point.

The subject matter is very English. This mystery has gone down in English history and made some people there wonder for centuries. When I was studying British history as part of my B.A. we had to read about the more famous English monarchs, plus of course Richard III was mentioned in connection with the play that Shakespeare wrote about him, but I don’t remember giving it any more thought than “wicked man – got what he deserved” and that was it. I certainly never wondered what really happened to the princes in the Tower, but I guess it might be different for someone living in Britain and reading English history, especially someone of an enquiring mind and with an interest in mysteries. I will say that Tey’s writing does manage to make the subject interesting on an intellectual level, but I never got excited about the outcome on a personal level.

My thinking is that while this may be the best British mystery of all time, I can’t see it being of so much interest to an international audience that they would put it at number one, except of course some who are consummate anglophiles.

Rating: A well-written and convincing hypothetical solution to a true historical mystery. 3 + stars.

P.S. People have been wrangling over this subject for centuries, and there is good proof, just as good as what is presented in the story, for a solution contrary to Grant’s.

P.P.S. If you're wondering about the title, there is an old proverb that goes: "Truth is the Daughter of Time"


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