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Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Book Review: The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey

I have long heard of Josephine Tey as one of the Grand Masters of the mystery genre, and this book as perhaps her masterpiece, so when I ran across it cheap at a used book sale, it was mine. And when I wanted a short, distracting book, it fit the bill.

Inspector Grant is laid up in a hospital bed with a broken leg. He's quite bitter and grumpy (I do not know if he's normally bitter and grumpy or if that's specifically because of his situation, not having read other books in the series) and he's way beyond bored with staring at the ceiling and attempting to verbally joust with the various nurses, all of whom he hates for various reasons. One day his friend Marta brings him a stack of pictures she's gotten from the library, after she reasons that faces are his expertise and what he finds most fascinating in the world, given his profession as a police detective. She hopes one will inspire him to perhaps investigate into the life of the pictured and take his mind off his situation. Mixed in to the pictures by accident is one that captures him right away: Richard III. Known as a an evil hunchback who stole the throne from his brother and later murdered his two young nephews who'd been imprisoned in London Tower for years, he's one of the most infamous people in British history. But the face just didn't match up to the reputation.

He starts off by reading an old school history book one of the nurses has, and Marta sends him a young history student to find research for him. He and the student uncover a discrepancy or two and then three, until the whole historical account begins to crumble. Who really killed the Little Princes? Why does everyone believe these lies about Richard? Who started them and why?

One thing that was interesting about this book is that it entirely takes place in one room, in Grant's hospital room. At first I thought this might turn out to be like Rear Window with a detective trapped and immobile in a room, but it didn't turn out to be a plot point. Many readers have trouble with the wooden and interchangeable dialogue between Grant and the student, but it didn't bother me. The characters weren't what was important here--the mystery is. So when I realized at times that I didn't know who was speaking, I also realized it didn't matter. I could just go on and find out about the history and the mystery behind Richard III and not worry about who said what in the unveiling of the mystery itself. It's almost sacrilege that I would say that it doesn't matter that I couldn't tell two characters' voices apart but that's a great thing about plot-driven books. It would be a deal-breaker in a character-driven novel, but it's just not really relevant here. Just getting those facts out is important.

I found the actual history and mystery super-interesting. I really hope it's true. I wish there had been an author note or something telling me if the research Grant uncovered is accurate or if any of it is fictional. I'm going to choose to believe it until told otherwise. It's not a cozy per se, but since they're investigating a mystery more than a century old, there's no danger, no blood involved. This book was a fun little mystery perfect for any history buff.

I bought this book used from the Friends of the Library book sale.

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