Tag Archives: Josephine Tey

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?

38 Comments

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

An Expert in Murder – Nicola Upson

I am sure there are some books that you have on your TBR piles which you mean to get round to reading for ages and ages yet for some reason, and despite the best intentions, the mood never quite takes you – even though you are fairly sure you are going to enjoy it. ‘An Expert in Murder’ by Nicola Upson has been one such book on my TBR pile (which you can see here) for quite some time. I was just in the mood for some cosy crime last week, but cosy wasn’t quite what I got.

Having not, as yet, ever read anything by the crime author Josephine Tey I wasn’t sure how well I would get along with Nicola Upson’s debut novel ‘An Expert in Murder’ as Tey herself is one of the principal characters. However being fictional, though I know it will have been researched and based on fact, I thought it wouldn’t be a problem and it wasn’t at all. What I knew I would love about the book (and was proved right) was that it was set in the 1930’s which is an era I adore and is set around the theatres of London and industry I worked in for several years, though not in the era this book was set.

As Josephine Tey travels by train to London to see the closing week of her incredibly successful West End play ‘Richard of Bordeaux’ she befriends a young woman called Elspeth who it turns out is a fan of the show and Tey herself. The two strike up an unlikely friendship and promise to meet up at the theatre over the coming week. Elspeth however is murdered and the more that the case is looked into the more it seems to be linked to Tey and her play. Detective Inspector Archie Penrose, who also knows Tey, is called to investigate the crime and a ruthless, cold murderer who strikes again right in the heart of Tey’s theatre land. Being a crime book and a murder mystery it would be churlish of me to say any more and give anything away.

This book itself does feel like it could have been written in the period in which it’s set. Though a cosy crime, which for some reason the cover suggested me, this is not in fact in parts it can be a little blunt and gruesome giving it a gritty realism. I did love the feel of the traces of the First World War and its effects since were still leaving their marks on all the characters there was a sadness to it and it added a certain something to the book. There is also a real spite to the murders that is rather chilling. It also reminded me of works of the period.  There was a feeling of Christie plotting in parts, which is a good thing, but with much more depth of character and less so of plot if that makes sense.

In fact if I had a little quibble with this book it was that the characters and the amount of them made me slightly conscious this was a first novel and occasionally almost trying to hard to please. I understand that the more characters you have in a crime book the more suspects, motives and red herrings you can work in. Yet occasionally there are so many characters known by both first and last names I got slightly confused and would have to back track some pages. I also couldn’t quite work out why everyone seemed to know Tey, and not because of her fame, in fact everyone seemed to be very chummy with Penrose too. There were also some suspects that you didn’t think worked at the theatre and yet did but worked elsewhere too which wasn’t unbelievable I just wanted it to be a little clearer now and again.

These are small things but it would be wrong if I didn’t mention the weaker points as I would recommend this book to be read if you haven’t. I didn’t race through this because I kept having to re-read a few bits here and there, I did enjoy it though and it was surprised how dark it was in parts – which I am a fan of in crime. As I mentioned before at the start of this post this is a book I have been meaning to read for yonks and only just gotten around to, I am so pleased that its sequel ‘Angel With Two Faces’ is lingering on the TBR pile now for future reading as I have found a new crime series that I am fairly sure could become a firm favourite and its author shows great signs of promise in books to come.

A book that will: appeal to those of you who love London and/or the theatre through all its ages and a period murder mystery that will definitely have you guessing and possibly send you on a Tey/Christie craze. 7/10

Savidge suggests some perfect prose partners;

Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? by Agatha Christie – a recently discovered stand alone novel by the Queen of Crime that I thought was utterly marvellous, made me laugh and left me guessing.
Daphne by Justine Picardie – not a crime novel, though there is a mystery about it, but a wonderful novel that features another female writer Daphne Du Maurier as a fictional character, and you all know how much I love Daphers.  

Who else has read ‘An Expert in Murder’, what did you think of it? Have you read the sequel? Who out there has read any Josephine Tey?  I would quite like read something of hers now that I have read this book, any suggestions?

19 Comments

Filed under Faber & Faber, Nicola Upson, Review

Could This Be The Last Book Binge?

Now this is going to be the last pile of books that I have bought you will be seeing for a while as I have decided to now officially test myself and see how long I can go without buying a book. There are a few reasons for this. The main one (at the moment) is that I am seriously considering, and I have mentioned this a few times of late, seeing if I could manage not to buy a single book in 2010. Pick your jaws up off the floor, or the pages of your book, I am being quite serious. Could I spend a year not buying any books at all? At the moment I am in the ‘yes I could’ camp, mind you shortly you will see a picture that will make you all say ‘pah… as if’.

There are two more factors one of which has been watching Verity of The B Files curbing, well actually stopping, her spenditure on books which is making for really interesting reading and she is doing amazingly well. The other factor is my own binge spending knows no limits; as can be shown by the array of books I came back with from the north last weekend. Do note I didn’t spend more than 50p on a single book in fact most of them were 25p. That’s what I love about it up home in the north everything is cheaper even the second hand shops. It also illustrates why it’s best I don’t live there. As you will see though every book had a reason for being bought…

The Final Book Binge?

  • The Story of Lucy Gault – William Trevor (Gran keeps telling me its his best)
  • The Ghost Road – Pat Barker (I like paperbacks normally but this Man Booker winner I never find and like the Trevor above was 25p for a hardback)
  • Surfacing – Margaret Atwood (I love this green Virago edition)
  • The Tortoise and the Hare – Elizabeth Jenkins (everyone’s recommended it to me)
  • The Body of Jonah Boyd – David Leavitt (really hard to get hold of new which I have been wanting to for ages)
  • Instances of the Number 3 – Salley Vickers (am planning a Vickers binge)
  • Dubliners – James Joyce (no luck with Ulysses lets try this)
  • Incendiary – Chris Cleave (meant to get this from publishers but Royal Mail strikes mean it’s gotten lost and if does turn up I can do a giveaway, I also loved The Other Hand)
  • Queens – Pickles (this is an out of print book that came out in the 80’s and describes the underground gay scene in London and the secrecy is also very, very funny apparently)
  • After You’d Gone – Maggie O’Farrell (have been wanting to read more of her since The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox which was superb)
  • Mr Golightly’s Holiday – Salley Vickers (another one for the Vickers binge)
  • Gigi & The Cat – Colette (an author always wanted to read)
  • To Love & Be Wise – Josephine Tey (want to read one Tey book before start Nicola Upson’s books where Josephine is the main character)
  • The Blessing – Nancy Mitford (just because it’s Nancy Mitford need I say more?)
  • A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry (several people have said this is one of their favourites)

Now in total this book binge came to the whopping price of £4.75!!! An utter bargain, but then I have to think actually in reality how long will it take me to read all these fifteen books? It’s that which makes me think maybe, just maybe, I should try and not buy anything next year. After all I get review copies in the post so that’s latest books covered, there is always the library which I am using more often now but not making the most, plus I do own over 600 books I haven’t read. There are also gifts and swaps. As the picture below demonstrates…

Gifts and Swaps

Only at book group on Thursday did Kimbofo give me a copy of David Vann’s ‘Legend of A Suicide’ which I have been really hankering after. Novel Insights sent me a surprise gift copy of The Search for Delicious by Natalie Babbit from Amazon after she saw I had loved Tuck Everlasting. Also through ReadItSwapIt I have rid myself of some books I thought were duds but other people wanted and gotten Salt and Saffron by Kamila Shamsie and, another book for the Salley Vickers binge, Where Three Roads Meet. So could this be the very last book binge? Well I cant say for definate as if I am not to buy a book throughout the whole of 2010 I may need one final mass binge to see me through. For now though let’s just see how the rest of November goes and if I can manage that small amount of time!

Have you been on a book binge of late? Are you under a book ban? How do you cope with the guilt after a binge, if you have any, or the restraint a ban takes? Have you read any of the above? Have you any advice for me? Should I try a year with no book buying?

42 Comments

Filed under Book Spree, Book Thoughts