Beware First Impressions
I recently got introduced to the novels of mystery writer Josephine Tey, and immediately fell in love with her brooding Inspector Grant of Scotland yard. I started with ‘The Singing Sands’ and I’m not sure whether I was won over more by Tey’s superlative writing or the vivid evocation of the wild and remote landscape of the Scottish Highlands where Grant has retreated to, to recover after a breakdown. ‘The Singing Sands’ rekindled my long forgotten love of crime fiction and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on another of Tey’s novels. As ‘The Daughter of Time’ was recommended by not one but two fellow bloggers – Kaggsy (kaggsysbookishramblings) and Mme Bibi (madamebibilophile), who was I to argue?
I’ll be honest, I was a little disappointed when I started ‘The Daughter of Time’. Gone was the windswept wilderness of the Highlands, and in it’s place was the stuffy claustrophobia of a hospital room in which Grant is confined, recovering yet again, this time from a fractured leg. Also, rather than solving a crime, Grant is encouraged by his good friend Marta to crack a different kind of mystery – a historical conundrum – as a distraction from his frustration at being incarcerated. Again, my heart sank. The right-wing, whiskey-soaked psycho that subjected me to History at school had thoroughly distinguished anything bordering on interest in the subject for me.
When Marta presents Grant with a sheaf of historical portraits, his eye is caught by the image of Richard III. Apparently, to the trained eye of the police inspector, Richard’s sensitive face is full of suffering and doesn’t fit with his supposed reputation for scheming and unscrupulous evil. Having seen this villainous Tudor version of Richard brought to life by Shakespeare and Anthony Sher, I couldn’t quite believe that Richard III’s character and actions had been misjudged. But, indeed they were. Starting off with some ancient school books loaned from his nurse, and progressing to more serious texts like Thomas More’s account of events, Grant’s bedside investigation is carried out as painstakingly as any at the yard. He also enlists the help of a young researcher from the British Museum, and then the trail really hots up.
I distinctly remember the moment I got hooked. At the beginning of chapter 7, Grant wakes up in the night with the realisation ‘But Thomas More was Henry the Eighth.’ Grant wasn’t suggesting that they were one and the same person in a midnight moment of crazed delirium. Rather, it had struck him that if More was a contemporary of Henry VIII, he couldn’t possibly have been an eye witness to the actions of the king whose character he soundly assassinated in his ‘History of Richard III’. Therefore, to a mind like Grant’s, trained in police procedure, More’s account had no more reliability than mere hearsay. I’ve never been a fan of Thomas More. He was a moralistic bore with a dodgy bowl haircut in the film ‘Man For All Seasons’, the viewing of which was an obligatory Boxing day ‘treat’ in our house throughout the 70’s and well into the 80’s – yawn! So I rather childishly followed the dismantling of his academic reliability with glee.
As the investigation continued, the plot grew more exciting and I couldn’t put the book down. I’m a bit of a sucker for novels about academic research – the furthering of plot through the unearthing of details in old manuscripts (A.S. Byatt’s ‘Possession’ is a wondrous case in point). Maybe it’s because I can’t imagine a more fun way to spend a lifetime than being buried alive in books and periodicals in the library.
I won’t give away any more of the plot, but I will say that it was a most satisfying, gripping and unusual read, and it has made me question the villainous reputation that I, like many, have associated with Richard III. I wonder whether there was in fact another more likely suspect behind the murder of those two boys in the tower, whom history has never called to account.