The Daughter of Time – Josephine Tey

Since there has been a sudden resurgence of interest in the British consciousness of late regarding Richard the Third, and the fact that a skeleton found under a car park is apparently him, I realised I knew nothing about him apart from the tale I was told at school that he killed his two nephews. A book which looks at Richard III is ‘The Daughter of Time’ by Josephine Tey and so I thought I would give it a whirl, I also remembered that this book was discovered through a mystery all of its very own. I was on the phone to my mother a few months ago and she suddenly said ‘oh Simon, you will know this. What is the book about the murder of the two princes in the Tower of London that was on radio 4 this week, or maybe it was last week, it sounded really good.’ Alas Simon didn’t have a clue but thanks to twitter and a shout out I was deluged with possibilities and then discovered that it was ‘The Daughter of Time’ and that it had been on an episode of ‘A Good Read’ which, oddly as I listen to every episode, I had missed somehow. I managed to wangle my mother and myself copies of it and whilst she read it almost the moment she had it, I was waiting for the right time. Now seemed like it.

*** Arrow Books, paperback, 1951 (2009 edition), fiction, 321 pages, very kindly sent (to me and my mother) by the publisher

I think that ‘The Daughter of Time’ might be one of the most unusual mystery novels I have read in terms of its structure. From the cover you would think that Josephine Tey would be writing a historical mystery set in the late 1400’s and early 1500’s of Richard’s rule. This is not the case at all and in fact the whole novel is told in the confines of one room as Inspector Alan Grant lies on a hospital bed after having an accident chasing after a criminal. Grant is beyond bored and needs something, anything, to take his mind off the ceiling which is all he can see when he is awake. Friends have brought books but none of them are gripping him. However when his friend, and star of the theatre scene, Marta brings him an array of faces that have mysteries behind them he finds himself struck by the portrait of Richard III. What intrigues him all the more is that people have such a definite reaction to him, mainly as a wicked tyrant, hunchback and murderer. Yet as Grant looks at his face he isn’t so sure he sees a killer, and having met a few he feels he would know, and so he decides to find out more and indeed if this man could really have killed his nephews and what might have driven him to it.

“So that was who it was. Richard the Third. Crouch-back. The monster of nursery stories. The destroyer of innocence. A synonym for villainy.”

I wasn’t sure what to expect from a Josephine Tey novel, yet this wasn’t it. Whilst I have not read her before, though I have read a fictional account of her, I imagined that her novels would be gripping but might be a little bit twee – I am not sure where this assumption has come from. What Tey delivers with this novel is a cleverly twisted take on both the historical novel and the crime novel and I loved how different it was. I didn’t think just by having Grant reading about Richard III, and then having the help of an American Scholar at the British Museum visiting to help him, that I would be transported to the era and yet on occasion I found myself very much there, especially when Tey writes fictional accounts by other authors of what they think went on in her own fictional book.

I did have a few small quibbles with the book though despite how much I enjoyed it. Occasionally I felt that Tey included too many excerpts of the dry historical tomes that she seemed to be berating and so there were chunks of ‘The Daughter in Time’ that felt rather wooden by default and broke the spell for me every now and then. Secondly I didn’t feel Tey could decide if she had to spell everything out for the reader in terms of the history of the time, and the events before and after it, in case you didn’t know it or if she assumed that anyone reading the book would know what happened and so she weirdly veered between the two. Sometimes you would have a really detailed picture of what was going on and others I was re-reading and re-reading the pages to see just how everyone was linked to whom and in what way.

This mainly happened in the middle of the book safely sandwiched between the section in which we get to know Grant, and the wit in which he describes his nurses, and his friends and how his interest in Richard III starts and then in the final section of the book where he starts to think that maybe Richard III wasn’t the ogre, and more importantly the murderer, that everyone has come to think of him as. The ending gets really gripping and builds up quite a pace, which seems so ironic as its told in the most mundane of hospital rooms, very clever.

Whilst I can’t say I was completely hooked throughout the whole of ‘The Daughter of Time’ (I feel I am being a much tougher reviewer at the moment, I am blaming ‘The House of Mirth’ for being so wonderful and everything I have read since just not being able to match) I did enjoy it as a different take on historical and mystery fiction. It is very much a book about books and the importance of them both fictional and non, and also a book that reminds you to question everything you are told as fact, some of it might not be true. A good read indeed that is written in a way I haven’t experienced in a novel of these genres before and one I would recommend trying if you ever need something to escape into.

Who else has read this and what did you think of it? I am undecided if I should try more Tey or not in the future, would you recommend I do so or not, and if so where next?


Filed under Arrow Books, Josephine Tey, Random House Publishing, Review

38 responses to “The Daughter of Time – Josephine Tey

  1. I discovered Tey a couple of years ago when a friend who knew of my love of Agatha Christie gave me 5 novels she had just read. I’ve now read all her mysteries but the last one. One thing I like about her books is that they are all fairly distinct from one another. One would even fit the theme of this month, but I won’t say anymore than that because they are mysteries!

    If you are looking to read more, I recommend to people that they start with Brat Farrar. Although, if you watch Downton Abbey, the story may be a bit familiar since they ripped it off quite blatantly.

    • Ooh if one would fit the theme of this month then you must tell me what it is, do tell, do! I think if they are all distinct then they would appeal, though that said I do read the Agatha Raisin books and they can have, erm similar elements shall we say?

      I watched the first series of Downton, then I lost interest in the second, some of the magic had gone.

    • Ruthiella

      Hi Sly Wit, I have only read The Daughter of Time but your comments have intrigued me (and I don’t even watch Downton Abbey)! So I just went and ordered both titles from a used book website!

      • Tey was actually my “discovery of the year” in 2011 (insert shameless blog plug here:

        They are so different that it is hard to rank them, but I would say my preference runs thusly: The Daughter of Time (because I’m a historian by training), Brat Farrar, The Franchise Affair, A Shilling for Candles (because I’m a Hitchcock fan and this was the basis of Young and Innocent), To Love and Be Wise, Man in the Queue, and Miss Pym Disposes.

        For what it’s worth, my sister read them all based on my reports and thinks they are more like P.D. James, who I haven’t really read, than Agatha Christie.

      • Oooh the fact Hitchcock liked her has just sold her all the more to me… After all Hitchcock was a huge Du Maurier fan and adaptor too 😉

      • I don’t think Downton Abbey is something we have to watch by law, though many people seem to think it is hehehe.

  2. gaskella

    This is the only Tey I have read so far, and I thoroughly enjoyed it, and it inspired me to do a little reading around the life of Richard III to get a view of my own.

    • I admired this book a lot, I can’t say I am now running off to find out any more about him. Though I did see the hilarious show on Channel 4, apparently it was a serious documentary but I havent laughed that much in ages and ages.

  3. I loved this book when it was assigned reading for a history class when I was 15. I loved how the teacher used it as a jumping off point to discuss historical research methodology. I just found my old copy the other day and was thinking that this is the perfect time for a re-read.

    • Actually I bet that was a wonderful age to read that! I am rather envious of not having read it back at school. It is indeed a good book about researching… Before the Internet!

  4. Never read any Josephine Tey (shock horror) – but I may give her a whirl one of these days : )

    • I don’t think she’s as well known now as she has been, in phases, in the past and so isn’t brought to the front of our reading consciousness so much.

      I have so many authors like this I want to read. Marsh, Parker, Allingham… I could go on and on!

  5. I’ve never read anything by Josephine Tey, but I have read the first of those Nicola Upson books about her and quite enjoyed it (although I kind of felt that the protagonist could have been anyone and I still would have liked it). This sounds really unusual though and I am very intrigued.

    • I felt kind of the same about the Upson book myself actually Marie. I thought it could have been any protagonist at the helm of it, maybe in the later ones it becomes more apparent or there is a reason behind it? I havent read any of the others yet though.

  6. Delyn

    I read this book many years ago and loved it but didn’t go on to read anything else of her’s. Perhaps I should! Or, perhaps I should dig it out and re-read it. .
    Surprised to find someone else who has the same thoughts about Downton! I thought I was the only person in the country who is not an avid watcher. I’ve had to keep a very low profile for fear of being lynched!!

    • I think I might try one more, the one that would work so well for my reading theme this week, before I call judgement on Tey. I liked this one a lot.

      I liked the first Downton a lot. It just seemed to lose its charm after the first series for me. Oh and there were almost constant adverts.

  7. Sarah

    I’ve just started reading Agatha Raisin and now I will need to look for Tey… So many books! Glad I’m house bound due to the blizzard in New England this weekend. I can get a lot of reading done! So many good suggestions.

  8. AnnieB

    I say go for the Franchise Affair. I promise you will like it.

  9. lynda p

    I first discovered Daughter of Time in my early teens and just had to read the rest of Tey’s work. My favourites are Brat Farrar and Franchise Affair. I’m not a big mystery reader as a rule but I still reread these books twenty years later. For me the mystery is incidental it is the clever insights you get into the characters that keep me coming back.

    • I thought the way she wrote this mystery, as a mystery fan, was what was wonderful about the book. I actually didnt really get the characters of Grant in this book, mainly because it was more about Richard III though I suppose.

  10. Erika W.

    Bear with me while I behave like the grandmother I am. Reading my favorite book blogs it is a constant delight to find younger generations discovering my favorite writers, Josephine Tey being one. Maybe her historical dramas will surface again also–I do hope so, written under the name of Heriot (spelling). I can’t remember her real name, so off I must go to Wikipaedia…

    • I think there is a big resurgance in a lot of ‘older’ work at the moment Erika. I don’t know if you have noticed but I think a lot more bloggers at the moment are going for older books rather than the newer ones. So you may see more familiar authors getting mentioned a lot more. I am loving doing my Persephone project and reading some authors that would have been undiscovered by me otherwise.

  11. Erika W.

    Oh I went wildly astray, sorry…She wrote her plays as Gordon Daviot and her actual name was Elizabeth Makintosh. What an interesting person–not to be forgotten. I will take my elderly mind to an early bed and hot water bottle.

  12. I loved this book and I remember someone recommending it to me as Tey had given a new spin on an old mystery (I think everyone then still believed the propaganda that Richard III was evil). I’ve only read The Franchise Affair and Bratt Farrar afterwards which I’m not sure I got on that well with. But I did like Tey’s style; it’s dark and brooding and different from Christie’s.

  13. Erika W.

    i recommend “Brat Farrar”. Unfortunately the plot has been copied more than once but this is the original. “The Franchise Affair” is extremely good and original but very dated.

  14. Erika W.

    Oh, I did not care for the Nicola Usson–have only read one and had to force myself to finish it.

  15. vicki (skiourophile / bibliolathas)

    I’d recommend _Miss Pym Disposes_ as another brilliant Tey work – I’m rereading it at the moment and loving it all over again.

  16. Pingback: Unusual suspects: Classic crime in the blogosphere for January and February 2013 | Past Offences

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