Tuesday, November 1, 2016

The Daughter of Time: A Review of the #1 Mystery Novel on the Crime Writers' Association List

As I mentioned in my introductory post, I will be reviewing the top mystery novels which appeared on the Crime Writers' Association and the Mystery Writers of America best mystery lists. I begin with the unique mystery, The Daughter of Time.

Author: Josephine Tey (nom de plume of Elizabeth MacKintosh, aka Gordon Daviot)
Novel: The Daughter of Time
Publication: 1951
#1 on the CWA list, #4 on the MWA list.
Word Count: 48450
Age of author at time of publication: 55.
Previous novels published by this author: nine. (and a number of plays)
Opening line: Grant lay on his high white cot and stared at the ceiling.
Significance: Final novel published during the lifetime of a great mystery author. A unique mystery.
Real Significance: It changed history.

Hello? Those who fantasize about going back in time to change history should stop concentrating on building a time machine and consider writing a novel.

This novel takes place in a hospital room where Josephine Tey's favorite detective, Inspector Alan Grant, is going crazy while taking forever to convalesce from a broken leg. So he turns to reading history. Except. . .

This novel really takes place inside the British consciousness. At the time of its publication, King Richard the Third was the champion villain among the English monarchy, in particular because he killed his two young nephews/princes in the Tower of London. In the British psyche, this may well have been The Crime of the Millennium. Before it came common practice to tear apart conventional wisdom, Tey constructed a historical treatise in mystery format that set out to rehabilitate King Richard's reputation. In that respect, her book was a fantastic success. It even helped lead to the recent discovery of King Richard's bones. (Discussed in the New Yorker link below)

Cleverly plotted, in this compact novel the reader learns of each new piece of evidence exonerating Richard the Third at the same time that the fictional detective uncovers it. Some of this evidence is compelling: Richard the Third had nothing to gain from killing his nephews. The history of Richard the Third was written by his hated rival and successor, Henry VII. It was this history that Shakespeare called upon, which once having written one of the great plays of all time, cemented Richard's unsavory reputation.

Shakespeare often showed the biases of his age. He wasn't about to insult the Tudors, his patrons. His portrait of Joan of Arc depicted her as a wench and deserving of her death.

Other evidence presented in favor of Richard the Third is less compelling. Early on Inspector Grant is convinced from a portrait that someone with such a nice face couldn't be a killer.

So, was Richard the Third indeed innocent, perhaps even benevolent? I don't care. The point is not whether I should swing from one version of history to another, it is whether I should critically regard pre-packaged history.

Here are a pair of excellent articles about Josephine Tey and the impact of The Daughter of Time.

The Mystery of Josephine Tey. (Vanity Fair)

The Detective Novel That Convinced a Generation that Richard III Wasn't Evil. (New Yorker)

Petty complaints? Why do you even need to be in a hospital to recover from a broken leg?

Overall judgment: Highly Recommended.

Josephine Tey
Now is the winter of our discotheque: Appended to mention that various versions of Richard the III emerge throughout literature. A heroic Richard III is the model for Robert Stark in Game of Thrones. (Stark/son of York) Others are noted in this Guardian article.

I wrote a short-short "The Richard the Third Murder Mystery," presented here.
Martin Hill Ortiz is the author of Never Kill A Friend, Ransom Note Press.

Never Kill A Friend, Ransom Note Press

Never Kill A Friend is available for purchase in hard cover format and as an ebook.
The story follows Shelley Krieg, an African-American detective for the Washington DC Metro PD as she tries to undo a wrong which sent an innocent teenager to prison.

Hard cover: Amazon US
Kindle: Amazon US
Hard cover: Amazon UK
Kindle: Amazon UK
Barnes and Noble 


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