The Daughter of Time (1951) – Josephine Tey
Josephine Tey, along with Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Margery Allingham and Ngaio Marsh, was one of the grandes dames of the Golden Age of British Mystery. The Daughter of Time is considered her greatest masterpiece by some critics, while others have deemed it highly overrated.
Written in 1951, this is the fifth book that Tey wrote about Scotland Yard detective, Inspector Alan Grant. No ordinary policeman, Grant is the darling of maitre d’s and sophisticated theatre people. In the hospital with a broken leg, he grows bored with reading and staring at the ceiling, until actress and friend, Marta Hallard, brings him a pile of portraits with which to amuse himself. Grant, who is an expert at reading faces, becomes obsessed with one portrait, which turns out to be that of Richard the Third, the villain of the Shakespeare play, supposedly responsible for the murder of his two nephews. Grant is sure that the face cannot belong to a man capable of such evil, and, with an American graduate student to do his legwork, he sets out to find who really murdered the two young princes five hundred years earlier.
There is a great deal of conversation, most of it witty, and an almost total lack of action in this book. For the contemporary American reader, there is also the daunting challenge of following the events of the War of the Roses that Tey assumed her British readers would have learned in school; keeping all the Edwards and Henrys straight is no easy task, despite the family trees included in the book.
Many question the accuracy of Tey’s history, but members of the Richard the Third Society, with chapters in both Great Britain and the United States, applaud her work in redeeming Richard’s good name. The Daughter of Time has so much charm, with its perceptive observations of the tedium of hospital life and its vivid (and funny) characterizations of even the most minor characters, that it hardly matters to the reader whether the book is historically accurate. My experience with mystery groups is that readers either love this book or find it unbearably tedious. (And while people say they enjoy Christie and Sayers, “love” is the word that I hear most often about Tey.) I count myself among those who love it.