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Not what I expected

The Daughter of Time - Josephine Tey

I've been reading up on Richard III lately and came across various recommendations for Daughter of Time online. It sounded like it had everything that a big ol' history nerd/Anglophile like me would want: British detective, historical intrigue, mentions of pubs. I did find all of those elements in the book, but ultimately it was a disappointing read. 

 

Let's start with the premise: Detective Grant is laid up in hospital (she said, Britishly) and a friend brings him a stack of portraits to entertain himself with because he likes faces and hates books. After staring into the velvety eyes of Richard III for awhile, he begins to suspect that the most villainous king in English history might not be a villain after all. We are supposed to take this as a good and reasonable thing because detectives "know faces." 

 

Sorry, but I really don't like the idea of cops homing in on criminals because of how they look. As someone who suffers from RBF, this whole notion creeps me out. Furthermore, we're not even talking about photographs. Grant is looking at a copy of a painting (and let me interject here that I don't think the face in this portrait is particularly nice), and the original version was presumably painted during Richard's lifetime and intended to flatter. COME ON. 

 

The other major problems with this book are that the characters aren't very likable (Grant especially is prone to judgmental and curmudgeonly musings about his nurses and visitors), and there is absolutely no action. Grant isn't able to sit up in bed until more than halfway through the book and most of the so-called action consists of him reading history books (some of them invented for the novel, some real) and talking about Richard with whoever has the misfortune of wandering into his hospital room. 

 

In the end, I didn't find the arguments for Richard's innocence to be at all persuasive. Obviously he had a motive to kill his nephews even after they were declared illegitimate. Any number of political enemies could have rallied around them at some point in the future, had they been left alive. And Henry Tudor wouldn't have been stupid enough to declare Edward IV's children legitimate unless he'd been absolutely certain that the princes were already good and dead.

 

Richard probably wasn't as horrible as Shakespeare made him out to be, but that doesn't mean he didn't commit a political murder or two in his day just like every other English king had before him.