A couple of years back, I read Josephine Tey's Miss Pym Disposes which was not so much about a murder in a boarding school as a deconstruction of the process of detection where it was the limitations of the detective - subjectivity, prejudices, likes, dislikes, - that was interrogated. It was a novel that broadened the scope of a detective novel.
This week, I read Tey's Daughter of Time, a book that often features in the best -100 -mysteries- of -all- time lists. Again Tey broadens the scope of a detective novel, this time examining a historical mystery which gives her the opportunity to examine the way the past comes down to us.
Bored stiff after fracturing his leg while pursuing a criminal, Inspector Grant becomes interested in the man generally viewed as a monster: Richard III, the last of the Plantagenets and the man considered to be the killer of his two young nephews. Fascinated by the portrait of Richard, Grant dwells deeper into the story and with the help of a young research scholar (who does all the leg-work for him) makes a convincing case that rather than being a murderer, Richard was instead a victim of false, malicious propaganda initiated by the Tudors and their lackeys, especially as that first Tudor - Henry VII's claim to the throne was rather shaky.
But as said earlier, the novel is more than just an investigation into a murder done long ago. It is also about how the past gets narrated - Who is writing it? - How objective is the account?' What are the writer's intentions? - Is there anyone to whom the 'historian/ writer/ narrator' is bowing to? - Who is in power? -In fact, while reading the book I kept on thinking about that Big Brother maxim - "Who controls the past, controls the future. Who controls the present, controls the past."
I quite enjoyed the book but I have a few reservations. Through Grant, Tey pokes a lot of fun at Sir Thomas More whose The History of King Richard III has been used as a standard book of reference by writers and historians. The 'Saintly' More is shown to be in a despicable light who fudged facts but Tey hardly mentions the even more saintly Shakespeare whose play Richard III presents the king as a deformed hunchback as villainous as villainous can be. Wasn't Shakespeare also through his History plays pandering to the Tudors? Why does Tey not question the Bard-of-Avon?
And for a novel that asks us to question the veracity of historical narratives, to dismiss the IRA as a murderous mob is a travesty.
These things apart, I really liked the novel. And yes, Richard III has a very-very strong case in his favour. But then I always liked the Richards more than the Henrys:)
First Line: Grant lay on his high white cot and stared at the ceiling.