Book Review: The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey

The Daughter of Time is a novel, written as a police procedural, that attempts to clear Richard III of the murder of his two young nephews, also known as the princes in the tower. It’s a fascinating and very convincing denunciation of the process used to record history as well as a strong case for the defense, but was Richard III innocent? It’s still open for debate.

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I read The Daughter of Time as part of the 2021 Thoughtful Reading Challenge. March’s task was to read a novel that was a reimagining of a Shakespearean play. It turns out that isn’t what this novel is. However, Shakespeare certainly played a role in perpetuating Richard III’s reputation as a deformed monster by his portrayal of him in his play Richard III.

The Daughter of Time was published in 1951 and is the fifth and final novel in Tey’s Alan Grant series. The Crime Writer’s Association listed it as number one on its Top 100 Crime Novels of All Time and the Mystery Writers of America ranked it as fourth. It caused quite a stir in its time and renewed an interest in Richard III.

The central character in The Daughter of Time is Alan Grant, a Scotland Yard detective who is laid up in a hospital with leg and back injuries. Knowing Grant is painfully bored, an actress friend brings him several portraits of famous people that are associated with mysteries to occupy his mind. Grant considers himself an expert in reading faces and is surprised to find out that a portrait that strikes him as “someone too conscientious” was actually the “monstrous” Richard III.

Portrait of Richard III

Source: National Portrait Gallery

He decides to do more research on the long dead king and begins his investigation by reading history schoolbooks. Then he progresses to more scholarly works, and finally he is aided by a history student who is able to access records from the time of Richard III to piece together an account of who was doing what and when. Using his police procedural skills, Grant determines that many of the historical sources people rely on as factual accounts of Richard’s guilt are based on gossip and hearsay. He discounts those publications and, instead, relies on the facts his historian friend discovers. These facts lead him to determine that not only was Richard III innocent, but, in fact, he was a good and honorable man who’s been wronged by history.

Josephine Tey had me convinced of Richard III’s innocence. In fact, as the story progressed, I wanted him to be innocent. She made a powerful case that he was a deservedly loved ruler who fell victim to vicious court intrigue (I thought of Game of Thrones several times while reading this novel). I ended up feeling great sympathy for Richard III and wanted his reputation restored.

I’m using past tense because there’s also a possibility that I was manipulated by a very skilled writer. I did some research after I finished The Daughter of Time, and critics pointed out that Tey played a little loose with the facts, picking and choosing the ones that fit her narrative. Still, I think she makes good points about things like motive and the credibility of history based on verbal, third person accounts.

Overall, I found The Daughter of Time fascinating (by the way, the title is based on the saying “Truth is the daughter of time”). I don’t even mind the possible manipulation because the story was so interesting. I’m not sure this book is for everyone – you have to like history and at least be tolerant of the English monarchy. But if you can check those boxes I think you’ll enjoy The Daughter of Time. Bonus – at just over 200 pages it’s a quick read!

This novel really piqued my interest in Richard III. You might recall that his skeleton was found in 2012 under a parking lot in the city of Leicester in England. Here’s a YouTube video about it. Interesting stuff!

And here’s a New Yorker article about The Daughter of Time that provides more context about the impact it had when it was published.

Did you read a novel based on a Shakespeare play this month? Tell us all about it in the comments section.

***Reminder: April’s challenge is to read a book about or set during the American Civil War.

5 thoughts on “Book Review: The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey

  1. I remember years ago being fascinated with Richard III and the princes in the tower, after reading the book by Alison Weir. I wish I’d read Daughter of Time instead of what I did. I chose Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler (a retelling of The Taming of the Shrew), since I’d loved her books years ago… but this one wasn’t the same quality. It was witty at times, but I didn’t connect with the characters like I had in her older books and I might not have realized the Shakespeare connection without being aware of it to start.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for commenting! That’s unfortunate you didn’t like Vinegar Girl. It’s on my library wish list but I’ll probably take it off now. The list could use a good trimming overall. 🙂 Was the book by Alison Weir called A Dangerous Inheritance? I haven’t read any of her books but they look really interesting.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I certainly did not love The Daughter of Time. My knowledge of English history is woefully lacking and this book was obviously centered on the ruling elite of England. The book is 70ish years old and when it was written, it was clearly written for an English audience and not an international one which is understandable. But for someone not familiar with English royalty, it required a bit of outside research to be effective. Further, I didn’t love any of the characters in the book and found them not very compelling. Perhaps what I liked best about this book was what it said about history and how it is written or told. Although 70 years old, this facet of the book is quite relevant today.


  3. Pingback: Reading with intent, whatever you’re reading | bookgaga

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