Review: The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey

Format read: ebook purchased from Amazon and paperback purchased a long time ago
Formats available: Trade Paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genre: Mystery
Series: Inspector Alan Grant #5
Length: 175 pages
Publisher: Scribner
Date Released: December 1, 1951
Purchasing Info: Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Book Depository

Without leaving his bed, Inspector Alan Grant investigates the evidence in the case of Richard III & the Princes in the Tower, arriving at a convincing solution by means of acute historical detection. A critical piece of evidence in this unabashedly Ricardian tale is the Bill of Attainder brought by Henry VII against Richard III, which makes no mention whatsoever of the princes—certainly suggestive to Grant of their being alive at the time.
Critics point out that this is a work of fiction. Rightly so. Despite that, in the decades since it was printed it’s turned many of the idly curious to devout Ricardianism. Anthony Boucher called The Daughter of Time “one of the permanent classics in the detective field”. Dorothy B. Hughes termed it “not only one of the most important mysteries of the year, but of all years of mystery”.
The title of the novel is taken from Bertolt Brecht’s play Life of Galileo, in which the eponymous hero observes: “Truth is the daughter of time, not of authority.”

My Review:

The last Plantagenet. The last King of England to die in battle. And until last week, very nearly the last King of England whose earthly remains were supposedly missing. (I’ll get back to that)

When the experts identified the skeleton under the car park (a car park!) in Leicester as belonging to Richard III, like so many, I went back to Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time. Her book, the story of a laid-up Detective Inspector investigating historical mysteries to keep from going spare, was my first real introduction to Richard.

It left a life-long impression. On my first trip to England, I visited Bosworth Field, the site of Richard’s final battle. (This was not easy on a rail-pass, the train didn’t go to Market Bosworth, and it was not much of tourist destination.)

But Tey’s book, it lived in memory. My copy is so old that I purchased it new for less than a dollar. It’s yellow and brittle at the edges. I wondered if the story would hold up.

Written in 1950, I couldn’t help but wonder a bit about the framing story. Her Inspector Grant has a broken leg, and is in hospital for 6 weeks flat on his back. No television in 1950, and seemingly no radio.

He’s also not drugged out of his noggin. His hands are free, it’s his legs that are non-functional. Yes, he could read a book, and people bring him lots. In fact, his comments on the best sellers of the day are just as sharp and biting as ever.

A few bits rankle to a 21st century reader. Women are nurses or in service occupations, except for Grant’s actress friend Marta Hallard. Men are police, doctors, researchers.

When Grant becomes cranky in his extreme boredom, Marta charms a friend at the Victoria and Albert Museum to create a packet of pictures that illustrate famous historic mysteries.

Grant’s fascination with faces causes him to make a mistaken identification. He finds one face from the pile, and thinks the man should be a judge or an official of some kind. Instead, the man in the portrait is someone who has gone down in history as the quintessence of evil: Richard III.

The story is Grant’s academic investigation, all conducted from the hospital while flat on his back, into the case against Richard. He’s forced to use other people to do all his legwork and research at a time when there was no internet. He doesn’t even seem to have had a phone in his room.

What Grant (and Tey) create is a fascinating look at how history gets made.

I read this the first time in high school, and found that the unforgettable lesson. Whether you finish the book believing that Richard is innocent or guilty, what I was left with was the absolute conviction that history is written by the victors. (It helps to have someone like Billy Shakespeare as your press corps)

Escape Rating A+: There’s always a fear that when you pick up a beloved classic that you haven’t read in a while, that it won’t wear well. Tey was smart to keep the framing story of The Daughter of Time to a minimum–it doesn’t intrude on the historical mystery enough to make the out-of-date details of 1950 jar against the historical discovery, which does not get old.

Just as it did the first time (and the second, third, and possibly fourth) reading The Daughter of Time made me THINK. First about how history is made and shaped by what is recorded. The word history is two words, “his” and “story”. The tale always changes based on who tells it. Or, as one of my former supervisors once put it, “the person who writes the minutes of the meeting controls history.”

I also paid a lot of attention to what people did, and not just what they said. It was a historical lesson learned about what constituted a primary vs. a secondary source that I never forgot when I studied history in college.

It was also fun to see the historic mystery as a police case instead of as dry history. Simpler questions like “where was so-and-so on the night of the king’s death?” or the old chestnut “who benefits?” were very relevant, even when documents were being “interrogated” instead of people.

If you like mysteries, and you’ve never read The Daughter of Time, do. It’s a treat. Especially if you read the fuss about finding Richard III’s bones and wondered what all the fuss was about. Josephine Tey wrote the best explanation you could ever find.

And what I wrote a bit earlier about King’s bones that have or have not been found?  One tiny detail. About the “Princes in the Tower” that Richard, or someone, had killed. Two skeletons were found in the Tower of London in the 1600’s that were decided on not much evidence must belong to the “Princes in the Tower”. In spite of repeated requests, the Church of England is refusing requests to have the bones DNA tested. They’re not sure what to do if the bones turn out not to be the Princes after all!

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

The Sunday Post AKA What’s On My (Mostly Vitual) Nightstand? 2-10-13

Just like yesterday’s Stacking the Shelves post, this particular Sunday Post is going to be on the short and hopefully sweet side.

I’ve got strep throat, and I pretty much feel like crap on toast. The only people happy about this development are the cats. I make a much better heat source with a fever of 102°.

(Yes, I’ve been to a doctor, it really is strep, I’m taking antibiotics, and the fever is coming down. I’ll be back in the office, no longer contagious and mostly human on Tuesday. Meanwhile, I’m sick as the proverbial canine. And why is it dogs in that idiom, anyway?)

But what happened this week that was much more fun?

There’s still plenty of time to take a ride on The Great Steampunk Romance Airship Tour, sponsored by The Galaxy Express. The Tour stopped here at Reading Reality on February 5, but do check out the tour schedule at TGE to discover all the marvelous places you can go and climb aboard.

The full (very full in fact) schedule for last week:

A- Review: Silent Vows by Catherine Bybee
Guest Post by Author Catherine Bybee + Giveaway
Guest post: The Great Steampunk Romance Airship Tour + Giveaway
B Review: Redeeming Vows by Catherine Bybee
B+ Review: Treacherous Temptations by Victoria Vane + Giveaway
Guest Post by Victoria Vane + Giveaway
B+ Review: The Slayer by Theresa Meyers
Stacking the Shelves (33)

And all the giveaways are still open except Catherine Bybee’s. So you still have time to get in the running for some terrific books!

Speaking of getting in on the ground floor for some fantastic books, what about this week? I have two events scheduled this week.

Monday, February 11, will be the first day of the Celebrating Saint Valentine Blog Hop, sponsored by Reading Romances. Since this hop is celebrating Valentine’s Day, it will run through the Valentine’s Day weekend. Reading Reality will be giving a $10 Amazon Gift Card as a prize (pick your own fantastic books) But there are over 60 authors and bloggers participating. LOTS of fantastic books and prizes to chose from!

On Tuesday, I’ll be reviewing Lady in Deed by Ann Montclair as part of a tour from Goddess Fish. Interesting historical romance from the Henry VIII period, not one that often gets used in historical romance, so it was a nice change-of-pace. There is a tourwide giveaway with this one.

And for the rest of the week, a couple of surprises. I did want to review one of the steampunk books from The Great Steampunk Romance Airship Tour before the tour ended, so I’ll be reviewing Heather Massey’s own Iron Guns, Blazing Hearts.

I also treated myself this weekend. I re-read an old favorite in honor of the determination that those bones they discovered under a Leicester car-park really do belong to Richard III. I was more than pleased to discover that Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time still holds up to the bright spot it has kept in my memory.

Real person fiction

Real person fiction, otherwise known as RPF, is a term used in fanfiction to describe a story that uses the actors playing the characters in a TV show or movie rather than the characters themselves. And what is fanfiction, you ask? Fanfiction is when someone writes an alternative version of something they watch, read, or play and posts it somewhere that is fanfiction friendly like or There are also sites dedicated to specific interests. The number of sites devoted to Harry Potter is positively legion. Fanfiction is very definitely a violation of copyright, but, since no one makes any money off of it, most writers allow it.

But RPF is a breed all its own, and a lot of sites won’t touch it. There is a very big difference between imagining any kind of behavior one cares to between fictional characters, and applying that same imagination to real people–the tabloid papers at the grocery counter notwithstanding.

However, there is a growing trend in mystery writing of using real people as amateur sleuths. An amazing number of historic figures have been pressed into service in recent years, solving a surprising variety of dastardly deeds that history did not record.

One of my favorite books is The Daughter of Time, by Josephine Tey. It is a police procedural and a historic mystery, wrapped in a single package. In the police procedural framing story, Tey has her police detective laid up in hospital with a compound fracture. While he is unable to investigate real murders, and is bored out of his mind, he is forced by inactivity to find another occupation. Because the story was written in the 1930’s, her detective does not have the option of surfing the net, or even TV as mind candy, even if he were inclined to mind candy. A book someone brings him causes him to latch onto the idea of investigating the historic mystery of the Princes in the Tower–Edward V and his brother Richard, Duke of York, who disappeared sometime after 1483.  Shakespeare’s play, Richard III, has pinned the crime of the Princes’ murder on their uncle and successor, Richard. Tey’s detective makes a different case.

Reading The Daughter of Time in my early teens gave me a lifelong interest in British history. The title is based on an old adage, “Truth is the daughter of time”. Whether Tey’s conclusion is the truth, no one knows. The topic is one that has been debated for over five centuries now, and Richard as the murderer has been fixed in the popular imagination. Although bodies purported to be the Princes were found in 1674 and possibly 1789, forensic testing has not been performed to date.

Imagine my surprise to discover that Tey herself had been “borrowed” as a fictional detective! Nicola Upson has begun a series of mystery novels using Josephine Tey as the center of a series of murders based in Tey’s real life as playwright Gordon Daviot. Ironically, both Tey and Daviot were pseudonyms, her real name was Elizabeth Mackintosh.

The first novel in the series, An Expert in Murder, revolves around the end of production of the play Richard of Bordeux in 1934. The play was Tey/Daviot’s most popular work, and was the theatrical event of its time. Many of the real participants left detailed memoirs of the period and their friendship with Tey (Sir John Gielgud, for example) and Upson’s portrait of the theatrical world in the 1930’s is fascinating. One does hope that not quite so many dead bodies turned up as in this mystery.

There are two more books in this series so far, Angel with Two Faces and Two for Sorrow. I plan to read both ASAP. But as much as I’m enjoying this series, there is something very ironic in this. Tey was, by all accounts, including Upson’s own, an extremely private individual. Making Tey the leading character in a mystery series is probably something she would have shied away from or made one of the suitably biting comments for which she was apparently famous. Too bad she can’t write this play, or novel, herself.