While recovering from injuries suffered on the job, Inspector Alan Grant is searching for something to occupy his mind. Having an affinity for faces, Grant is given a stack of portraits and photos of men and women to study. After coming across a photo of historical villain Richard III, Grant recalls the murder of Richard’s two young nephews and despite never being proven guilty of the crime, history has written him as a murderer. With little to do, Grant becomes obsessed with examining the evidence against Richard in an effort to solve a five hundred year old crime.
With The Daughter of Time, Josephine Tey (a pseudonym used by Scottish writer Elizabeth Mackintosh) wrote a mystery novel where the protagonist never leaves his bed nor is in any real danger. Not only that, but Grant has nothing to gain from solving the mystery nor does anyone seemingly care if he does. I can’t imagine anyone pitching this to a publisher today. So, why was it voted the best mystery novel of all time by the British Crime Writers’ Association (second being The Big Sleep, I might add)?
I guess you could say that while the story is first and foremost a mystery, it’s also an exploration into how unreliable history can be or how opinion is often accepted as fact. Almost everyone that Grant speaks to in the course of his investigation believes Richard to be guilty as that’s what they’ve been told through history books despite Richard’s guilt seemingly being based on hearsay and less on cold, hard evidence. You ever hear that old saying, history is written by the victors? Grant’s main argument hinges greatly on this fact in pointing out that Richard did not have a sufficient motive, nor did his character leading up to the suspected murder dictate the killings. The succeeding Tudors, however, had everything to gain by dragging Richard through the mud following his death.
While I don’t put a lot of faith in the study of physiognomy (the assessment of a person’s character or personality from his or her outer appearance), the resulting investigation by Grant proves to have some merit. The Daughter of Time is an interesting read that examines the way history had been recorded and the way justice was dealt before the age of forensics.