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Old 03-11-2019, 07:12 PM   #1
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April 2019 Discussion • The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey

The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey is the April 2019 selection for the New Leaf Book Club.



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The Daughter of Time is a 1951 detective novel by Josephine Tey, concerning a modern police officer's investigation into the alleged crimes of King Richard III of England. It was the last book Tey published in her lifetime, shortly before her death. In 1990 it was voted number one in The Top 100 Crime Novels of All Time list compiled by the British Crime Writers' Association. In 1995 it was voted number four in The Top 100 Mystery Novels of All Time list compiled by the Mystery Writers of America.

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Old 04-15-2019, 12:31 AM   #2
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The Daughter of Time's time has come. What did we think of it?
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Old 04-15-2019, 12:45 AM   #3
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More soon, but a solid four stars. Though the Derek Jacobi narration was a bust. But this wasn't a great book for audio anyway, if you don't already know a lot about the English kings and their offspring.

Charlie.
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Old 04-15-2019, 01:12 AM   #4
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I expect there will be two conversations going on: one about the book, and another about the mystery discussed in the book. To stick with the book for now, here's what I prepared when I finished reading it...

I think it was an interesting idea for a book published in 1951, and was reasonably well handled considering the constraints (book length, audience expectation and so on). As such the book earns about a 3/5 from me: worth reading but unlikely to ever revisit. I do have trouble working out how it came to get voted into all-time best lists ... but then the book faces a big hurdle with me: I detest Inspector Alan Grant.


Please excuse what follows, especially the length, I need to get this off my chest and then maybe I can talk about the book more calmly. (Some parts in spoilers to make it look shorter. )

Dear Alan Grant, how do I loath thee? Let me count the ways. Here is a small selection of quotes that, to my mind, mark him as a smug, self-satisfied and arrogant son of a ... Scotsman:
Spoiler:
Grant called her The Midget to compensate himself for being bossed around by a piece of Dresden china which he could pick up in one hand. [So calling her The Miget wasn't bad enough, now we're adding Dresden china to make up for it?]

When she was off duty he was attended to by The Amazon, a goddess with arms like the limb of a beech tree. [Just what is it with this guy?]

“You can tell what the normal run of over-sexed women look like by a walk down Bond Street any day between five and six, and yet the most notorious nymphomaniac in London looks like a cold saint.” [Okay, so this was early 1950s, we should not expect too much, but on top of everything else?]

And he had gone away, rosy and sane and balanced, as befitted a man who was belted for his good in his youth. [Ditto the previous comment, I guess.]

A man who understands about people hasn’t any yen to write history. History is toy soldiers.” [I really wish I had the impression this was supposed to be tongue-in-cheek.]

Grant's name calling isn't humorous, it's derogatory. He's always looking down his nose at everyone else (although perhaps not Marta). At best he's condescending, but much of the time I think he's worse than that.

Plus there is his major offence: “I see that you have managed to read at least one of the books I brought you—if the rumpled jacket is any criterion.” A rumpled book jacket! No trial is needed, put him up against the wall. Now. We won't bother waiting for dawn.


And to top it all off, he's just not that smart.
Spoiler:
In the first Inspector Alan Grant book he sees a stiletto and this supposedly experienced inspector thinks "must have been a Dago". And then it went downhill from there.

In this book we have this supposedly experienced policeman jumping to all sorts of conclusions without checking his facts first. (eg: Assuming Thomas More was contemporary to Richard amongst other things. Come to think of it, constantly referring to the hair-shirt wearing, self-flagellating Thomas More as "the sainted" was pretty annoying too.)

And telling us how smart he is to insist on contemporary accounts - while he's staring at, and making judgements from, a painting that was made a century after Richard was dead. (It is - and he knows it is - a late 16th century painting of an early 16th century painting; so that's two artists that weren't looking at Richard's face when they painted it, not sure exactly where we go to find the artist that actually looked upon Richard and put paint to canvas.)

And what's this crap about telling what people will and will not do from their faces. Sounds like phrenology by another name, and not the sort of stuff I expect to hear from a real detective.


It is possible to have dislikeable detectives and still have it work. I never particularly liked Christie's Poirot, but she sensibly makes him a figure of some ridicule so that the audience has reason to feel superior while still admiring his "little grey cells". Tey's Grant is all arrogance and self-satisfaction while also being outright wrong about so many things as to seem just silly, but this is never acknowledged by the characters or the author; they don't seem to see it.

I might have had more patience, but the first book (The Man in the Queue) was a did-not-finish for me a few months ago, and for all the same sorts of offences.
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Old 04-15-2019, 07:15 AM   #5
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I liked the premise of this book, a Scotland Yard detective trying to solve the 500 yr. old cold case of the missing princes. I also didn't like Grant at first but somehow he became Hugh Grant in my mind as I was reading. This helped tremendously ! All of a sudden I understood Grant and he became affable and only mildly irratating. I saw him in a different light. Lol. " Tell me what I'm missing old chap ?" He was working his theory looking outside of the box. Looking at faces and asking everyone who came into his hospital room what they thought. Was King Richard iii really as bad as everyone thought ? Or was he framed for the murders ?

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Old 04-15-2019, 07:55 AM   #6
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I entirely agree with gmw and will post more at length later; for now, I'll only observe that misogyny is also a significant factor. Of the working class characters, only Sergeant Weller is granted the dignity of his personhood and regarded as intelligent and worthy in himself, while remaining, of course, an underling.* Certainly not the nurses, or Grant's housekeeper! Marta is an exception, but even at that she's dismissed as rather stupid and someone who operates on instinct.

*C'mon, who didn't want Williams to say, "Run your own bleeding errands; I'm off the clock," when sent to the bookstore?
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Old 04-15-2019, 08:47 AM   #7
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Well, I enjoyed the book, and I don’t know how much that was influenced by my early affection for it because it made me look at Richard III with new eyes.

Yes, of course the attitudes referred to by gmw and issybird are appalling to us. But I think they were absolutely normal in England for 1951, when the book was published. I’m not suggesting that makes them okay, but I don’t think Tey should be cast into outer darkness for reflecting the attitudes of the day.

I think the reason the book was voted to be the best mystery ever, or whatever that title was, is because it was such a different approach, and a very successful one, in getting a lot of people interested not only in the question of “Did he or didn’t he?”, but also in the idea that there are many different versions of history. Also of course the need to go back to original documents, rather than relying on one person’s version of what happened.

One thing I really enjoyed this time around was the easy access that the Internet gives us to so many of these documents. I would never have dreamed I could read the Titulus Regius back when I read the book all those decades ago. But I did read it with much fascination online a few days ago.
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Old 04-15-2019, 10:10 AM   #8
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Well, I enjoyed the book, and I don’t know how much that was influenced by my early affection for it because it made me look at Richard III with new eyes.
I think this was a particularly important point when it was written (and for some time after). It was something different for the time, and it introduced a much wider audience to the sorts of questions raised by others, like The Richard III Society (which would have been much harder to find back then).

There was a line in the book: "It was shocking how little history remained with one after a good education."

My reaction was: It is shocking how Shakespeare has rewritten history. My history teachers never tried to correct the history we were learning in English classes, but how can we not be influenced by his powerful, but entirely fictional, representations of so many key figures from history?


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Yes, of course the attitudes referred to by gmw and issybird are appalling to us. But I think they were absolutely normal in England for 1951, when the book was published. I’m not suggesting that makes them okay, but I don’t think Tey should be cast into outer darkness for reflecting the attitudes of the day.
I don't buy this. Christie's Poirot and Hastings were made up in the 1920s and they were sexist but they were never this objectionable - and there are more examples (Sayers' Lord Wimsey comes to mind). It was not the sexism (nor the racism of the first book), but how these come together with everything else in the character of Grant as someone with little empathy or consideration for others. It makes him very hard to like. And even this might have been acceptable if I thought the impression was deliberate, but it never seemed like that to me.


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[...] One thing I really enjoyed this time around was the easy access that the Internet gives us to so many of these documents. I would never have dreamed I could read the Titulus Regius back when I read the book all those decades ago. But I did read it with much fascination online a few days ago.
Certainly it makes a huge difference having the resources we have now. To instantly see where there various characters fit together in time. To have had so many people have spent so much time studying the few known facts and assembling many and varied possibilities means we are spoilt for information now. It hasn't really helped us get any closer to the truth, it seems to me, but at least it has shown the historical assumptions for what they were.
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Old 04-15-2019, 12:36 PM   #9
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Well, I enjoyed the book, and I don’t know how much that was influenced by my early affection for it because it made me look at Richard III with new eyes.

Yes, of course the attitudes referred to by gmw and issybird are appalling to us. But I think they were absolutely normal in England for 1951, when the book was published. I’m not suggesting that makes them okay, but I don’t think Tey should be cast into outer darkness for reflecting the attitudes of the day.

I think the reason the book was voted to be the best mystery ever, or whatever that title was, is because it was such a different approach, and a very successful one, in getting a lot of people interested not only in the question of “Did he or didn’t he?”, but also in the idea that there are many different versions of history. Also of course the need to go back to original documents, rather than relying on one person’s version of what happened.

One thing I really enjoyed this time around was the easy access that the Internet gives us to so many of these documents. I would never have dreamed I could read the Titulus Regius back when I read the book all those decades ago. But I did read it with much fascination online a few days ago.
I think that's true it was in 1951 and attitudes have changed since then thankfully. Many of the American detective books I've read in the same time period referred to women secretaries included , as girls, dolls or dames.They also ran errands, mixed drinks and of course got the coffee.
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Old 04-15-2019, 12:39 PM   #10
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I absolutely don't agree about the level of misogyny in this book as exhibited by Grant. Yes, it's certainly more than we would countenance today, or even in any book written in the last 20 years. But get a grip, folks -- it was written 65 years ago! That level of casual misogyny was completely within character. Did all books written then have it? Certainly not. But more than enough did for me to cut some slack for this one. One doesn't need to like Grant (and really, we hardly know anything about him from this look at his character) to appreciate the story, and the things it's saying. This is, after all, not a book about Grant, but a book about the detective process, about who writes history and why we need to be cautious about it, but finally about Richard III, of course.
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Old 04-15-2019, 12:47 PM   #11
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Another concept I loved was "tonypandy" -- they 1953 equivalent of "fake news". And why it's so important to go to original, contemporaneous, sources and not accept some later retelling of an event or person, no matter how exalted the person doing the retelling.
  • Quote:
    the sainted and infallible Thomas More's personal account of Richard III
  • Quote:
    What could possibly be wrong with the personal account of a man revered for his integrity as Thomas More had been revered for four centuries?
  • Quote:
    I wouldn't have the sainted More as a present
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Old 04-15-2019, 12:57 PM   #12
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I entirely agree with gmw and will post more at length later; for now, I'll only observe that misogyny is also a significant factor. Of the working class characters, only Sergeant Weller is granted the dignity of his personhood and regarded as intelligent and worthy in himself, while remaining, of course, an underling.* Certainly not the nurses, or Grant's housekeeper! Marta is an exception, but even at that she's dismissed as rather stupid and someone who operates on instinct.

*C'mon, who didn't want Williams to say, "Run your own bleeding errands; I'm off the clock," when sent to the bookstore?
All true of course, but I kept thinking that Tey wanted to demonstrate how everyone just accepted the history that they were taught. I don't think Grant thought they were stupid but just too accepting. He was a grouchy patient that's for sure.
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Old 04-15-2019, 01:54 PM   #13
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Stuck on your back, with no stimulation except ceiling tiles and the contemporaneous equivalent of Maeve Binchy, and you'd be a cranky patient too.
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Old 04-15-2019, 03:43 PM   #14
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Sadly, both of my libraries say I have at least 2 weeks to go before I will be able to get my copy. That probably means I won't be able to join in this month.

I have read The Graveyard Book and it is "available soon" so I should be fine on next month's selection.
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Old 04-15-2019, 03:44 PM   #15
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Another concept I loved was "tonypandy" -- they 1953 equivalent of "fake news". And why it's so important to go to original, contemporaneous, sources and not accept some later retelling of an event or person, no matter how exalted the person doing the retelling.
I had to look up what" tonypandy " meant I've never heard of it before reading this book. I was also surprised how angry Grant was at Thomas More. He seemed to single him out above the others. Although I think it was because not many would doubt him.
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