It seems that everyone everywhere is in love with this book, and with Josephine Tey in general. Interest in Tey and this book surged with the discovery of Richard III’s bones. Because the ghost of Harry Stephen Keeler was still active in the blogosphere at the time, the news story hit just a few days after I’d finally purchased a copy of this book, intending to read it. But because a lot of people who had no idea what they were talking about suddenly became authorities on King Richard, Tey, and GAD in general, I decided to wait for a while.
There are also several great scenes. One of the very finest is a scene where Inspector Grant realizes, to his fury, that the “definitive” account of Richard’s reign (supposedly penned by St. Thomas Moore) is absolutely useless. The scene is absolutely powerful and just magnificent to read (and re-read). And it leads to Tey’s major theme, about how truth can be lost in the sands of time and that history is indeed written by the victors…
Unfortunately she undermines her own premise. She argues that Richard III was not a murderer, but instead of just trying to prove that, she tries to prove that Richard was a saint. She seems to acknowledge this at the end, when Grant tells a friend of his that people will accuse him of trying to whitewash Richard’s character when he presents his theories, but she still does it. It’s not enough to prove, as best as she can, that Richard was innocent: no, he was a wonderful, good, decent, holy man who was loved by all until Big Mean Henry VII came along and wrestled Poor Little Richard’s crown away. While it’s true that Henry VII was, for all intents and purposes, a usurper, Tey reduces a complex historical period into a black-and-white, pure good vs. pure evil, us vs. them sort of picture. And to fit King Richard into this view, he has to be recast as a pure, sainted man.
Worse than that, the book is seriously flawed as a detective story. Alan Grant’s main premise throughout this entire novel is that he can tell Richard III was innocent by looking at his face. I call BS on that. Throughout detective fiction, there are many examples of murderers that don’t look like murderers. A killer can look like a perfectly nice young man, or a level-headed sensible girl, or perfectly respectable elderly gentleman. A face can tell you nothing, but over and over again Tey tells you that the face is the key to everything. I don’t understand why this book is so highly regarded as a work of detective fiction when it has such a major contradiction at its core.
All that being said, I think it’s worth reading The Daughter of Time, and if I sounded overly negative, consider it a corrective to the overly-enthusiastic reviews you’ll find everywhere else online. I did enjoy the book very much, but it’s not a perfect detective story and has major flaws as a historical document. Still, it’s a terrific read with plenty of good stuff to be found. As long as you keep expectations reasonable and do not expect a masterpiece of detection, you should enjoy the book just fine.