Saturday, July 21, 2012

Book Review - Daughter of Time

It’s been awhile since I wrote a book review, but I just loved The Daughter of Time. It has a lot of things going for it: It was published the year I was born (1951), it is history driven, and it is short (just like my attention span of late).

The mystery begins with Detective Inspector Grant of Scotland Yard laid up in the hospital with a broken leg. Supremely bored, a friend brings him museum postcards with portraits of famous historical characters who have mysteries connected with them (e.g., Louis XVII, the son of the guillotined Louis XVI - did he survive his imprisonment in the Concierge during the French Revolution?). Inspector Grant settles on the portrait of Richard III, the English king everyone loves to hate—thanks in large part to Shakespeare.

Was the king who would have given “his kingdom for a horse” the murderer of a beloved brother’s two sons, known to history as The Little Princes in the Tower of London? Tey presents one historical fact after another that adds up to Richard being innocent of the charge of murder, including a continuing good relationship with the boys’ mother and sisters, the execution of the man who did the deed decades after the murder and Richard’s death, and the princes having been declared illegitimate, thereby removing them from the line of succession. If Richard felt threatened by the princes as being the rightful heirs to the throne, why leave the five sisters who had the same claim?

But the question remains: If Richard did not kill the little princes, who did? Tey points the finger at his successor, Henry VII, whose claim to the throne hung upon a thread. Henry fought Richard at the Battle of Bosworth because he wanted to be king, and his mother, Margaret Beaufort, really, really wanted him to be king. In the early days of the reign of the first Tudor, Henry was looking for ways to legitimize his claim to the throne. His first step was to marry Elizabeth of York, Richard III’s niece and the sister of the little princes. But if he had wanted to get the people on his side, wouldn’t Henry have mentioned that Richard III had murdered the boy princes? But Henry didn’t. And why did Henry send the boys’ mother/his mother-in-law to a convent when Richard had let them roam free (very un-Plantagenetlike by the way)? There’s a lot a more, but I don’t want to give all the surprises away.

In my twenties, I devoured histories of the Plantagenets. Murder, mayhem, war, betrayal was their bread and butter, but I had gotten away from it. This book pulled me back in. I found myself pulling out various histories of the Plantagenets that were gathering dust on my shelves to see where serious historians stood on the question of Richard III being the murderer of his nephews. (Richard does have his own fan base.)

Although Tey piles up the evidence in favor of Richard’s exoneration of the charge of murder, there are some difficulties. We know the princes went into the tower, then a royal residence, during their uncle’s brief reign, but did not come out. In 1933, bones of two children found in the late 17th century under a staircase in the tower were analyzed and since interred at Westminster Abbey. The size of the bones seemed to indicate that the children were ten and twelve, the age they would have been during Richard’s reign.

As I said, this story is history driven. It helps if you are familiar with Plantagenet/Tudor history. Because so much is history, there is little character development of Grant or his American gopher, Carradine. But I found this to be a minor issue. What definitely gave me pause is the length of Grant’s hospital stay. Was it usual for someone who broke his leg in the early fifties to stay in the hospital for weeks at a time? I read a dozen other reviews, and this didn’t seem to bother anyone else, so it is possible.

In summary, if you are looking for a painless way to read about Plantagenet history or if you like history and mysteries, you will enjoy The Daughter of Time, a book The Los Angeles Daily News called one of the best mysteries of all time. 

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