Josephine Tey was one of two pen names used by Elizabeth Mackintosh (1897 – 1952), one of the foremost mystery writers of the first half of the 20th century. Why isn’t this post being published on Mystery Monday? It’s more an historical puzzle than a murder mystery because a photograph triggers a search for the truth. The title, The Daughter of Time, Tey took from an old proverb — Truth is the daughter of time.
Inspector Alan Grant is bored out of his skull, flat on his back in a hospital. Beside his bed is a stack of the latest novels, brought to him by friends; books that he finds totally uninspiring — they are all so predictable. Actress Marta Hallard, in an attempt to set him on a mental exercise worthy of such a great detective, brings him an envelope of portraits from history, portraits of people who have some kind of a mystery attached to themselves. “Long before he entered the Force he had taken a delight in faces, and in his years at the Yard that interest had proved both a private entertainment and a professional advantage.”
Marta up-ended the quarto envelope she was carying, and spilled a collection of paper sheets over his chest.
“What is this?”
“Faces,” said Marta, delightedly. “Dozens of faces for you. Men, women, and children. All sorts, conditions, and sizes.”
He picked a sheet off his chest and looked at it. It was an engraving of a fifteenth-century portrait. A woman.
“Who is this?”
“Lucrezia Borgia. Isn’t she a duck?”
On looking at the picture of Richard III, the alleged murderer of his young nephews (supposedly because they stood between himself and the throne of England upon the death of his older brother Edward IV), the face seemed to be more of a man who belonged “on the bench” rather than “in the dock”. Grant couldn’t see Richard as the villain the school history books (and Shakespeare) painted him. Each person Grant showed the picture to had a different take on his personality but none thinks him a villain until they learn who it is. With the help of an American, Brent Carradine, who is doing research at the British Museum, Grant begins to seek out authorities, and primary sources as evidence to ascertain the truth about the pensive man in the portrait.
Together, detective and researcher compile an impressive amount of information, bits that one by one present a case that totally exonerates Richard of the murder of the boys in the tower. They painstakingly sift through rumours, eliminate contradictory information, and dismiss the so-called experts of the times who display a perfectly Tudor bias. (They learn that one sainted authority, Sir Thomas More, was only 5 years old at the time of Richard’s reign and got all of his information second hand.) Together, Grant and Carradine (and Tey) build a biography of King Richard III. Do they solve the puzzle of who killed the princes in the tower? I wouldn’t want to spoil it for you.
This is a delightfully written and totally logical book about the York king who was villainized by Tudor historians, and it attempts to set the record straight (not for the first time in history) about a sensitive man with a sterling record of fair administration, a man who cared about family, pardoned those who had committed treason against him, and had no desire to usurp the throne. Let no-one ever call him a murderer again. This is Tey at her finest — both author and historian. * * * * *