Practically every best list has this title on it. There’s a reason why. It’s that good, obviously, but also because it makes the case for the innocence of King Richard III who down through history has been accused of smothering his two royal nephews to death in the Tower of London. Shakespeare wrote a play with him as villain, hunchbacked to boot. But many historians feel poor Richard as been maligned, as did Ms. Tey. Her protagonist, Alan Grant, a Scotland Yard detective is bored to tears after breaking his leg and laid up in hospital. A friend brings a portrait of King Richard and Alan, on the basis of nothing more than the physiology of the portrait’s subject, decides Richard must be innocent of the crimes he has been accused.
One of the amazing aspects of this mystery is how Grant never leaves his bed and does all detecting via historical works he and his assistant from The British Museum, study. I remember as I read on, how astonished I was at Tey’s ability to delve into so ancient a crime, and how persuasive she was with her argument. It’s unlike any other crime novel–because first, a murder hasn’t been committed, and second, the supposed crime took place hundreds of years ago. Anthony Boucher, the same Boucher that the crime fan convention, Bouchercon, is named, said this: “one of the permanent classics in the detective field,” and a favorite mystery writer of mine, Dorothy B. Hughes, as a reviewer also praised the book: “not only one of the most important mysteries of the year, but of all years of mystery”. Oh, and the British Crime Writers Association has voted it the best crime novel ever written. I can’t go that far.
I believe this book was a catalyst in looking at history and how it is written. I’ve heard the expression, ‘history is written by the winners’ in regard to wars. I believe history is shaped not only by those in control, but by rumor, gossip, and legends. Misinformation, or downright lying can and does resonate–even quickly after an event. When polled during the Iraq war, people were asked ‘who attached the US and the World Trade Center on 9/11’, and a large amount of complete idiots answered, Saddam Hussain. Where did this idea derive? Propaganda from the powers that be in pushing the dangers of Hussain, which in turn became a common misconception by sections of the public, and if allowed to continue–a hundred years from now in history books it will be stated as fact. If America had prevailed in Vietnam, instead of fighting an impossible war, the history books would be claiming the war started when a ship was attacked in Tolkin Bay, rather than that episode being shown for what it was, a fraud perpetrated on the public as an excuse to enter into conflict. ‘Weapons of mass destruction’–the latest lie, is up in the air as to whether or not history will record the truth. If something is stated long and loud enough, it becomes truth. The title of the book is taken from a Sir Francis Bacon quote: “Truth is the daughter of time, not of authority.”
Elizabeth Peters, a super mystery novelist wrote a title, The Murders of Richard III, that involves a group of people who are vehemently convinced Richard is innocent of the crimes. It quotes The Daughter of Time throughout, and is how I came to read Ms. Tey’s title. A roundabout route, true, but well worth the trip.
Check out the entire list of Best 100 Mysteries of All Time