I just finished reading “The Daughter of Time,” by Josephine Tey, which is a mystery written in 1951 about Richard III, the last of the Plantagenet dynasty, and the final king of his bloodline before the Tudors took over England. His murder on the battlefield marked the end of the War of the Roses (as well as the Middle Ages). The story of himself, and his family, very much foreshadows George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones.
In history, Richard III has been villainized by the likes of Shakespeare and Philippa Gregory for murdering his two nephews upon the death of his brother, Edward IV, to prevent them from ascending to the throne.
The novel, which is written from the point of view of Inspector Alan Grant of the Scotland Yard, recuperating in the hospital, with nothing to do but ponder history, unveils the facts behind the accusation, and proves it to be untrue. Or at least in the novel he does. Critics in the 20th century hail it as one of the greatest mysteries of all time, but I’ve been more puzzled by the BBC television show Sherlock than I ever was by the book. (As a side note, the second season is now on the PBS website.) I knew what was going on within 50 pages, and I never even had to read the last chapter in the middle of finishing it, like I normally do, to find out what happened.
Nevertheless, it’s a good read, especially if you like any of the cultural references I made above. My favorite part—besides Grant’s descriptions of his nurses whom he calls “The Amazon” and “The Midget”—is the way that the portrait of Richard III, which stands by the inspector’s bedside, becomes a method of not only reading the former King, but also of making apt social commentary.
“‘If you ask me,’ the surgeon said, absent-mindedly considering the splint on Grant’s leg, ‘Cromwell started that inverted snobbery from which we are all suffering today. “I’m a plain man, I am; no nonsense about me.” And no manners, grace, or generosity either.’ He pinched Grant’s toe with detached interest. ‘It’s a raging disease. A horrible perversion. In some parts of the States, I understand, it’s as much as a man’s political life is worth to go to some constituencies with his tie and his coat on. That’s being a stuffed-shirt. The beau ideal is to be one of the boys.’”
Anyway, it’s a slender thing, only 206 pages, and worth a weekend. Read it if only to prepare yourself for the BBC miniseries on the War of the Roses, which is reputedly being released this year.