Brat Farrar – Josephine Tey

Patrick Ashby committed suicide when he was just thirteen. He threw himself off a cliff or swam out to sea until he could swim no more. His parents had been killed in a plane crash shortly before but his family – twin brother Simon, sisters Eleanor, Jane & Ruth & Aunt Beatrice – & friends had no idea that he was distressed enough to take such a drastic step. Beatrice Ashby (known as Bee) had stepped in to look after her nephews & nieces & take on the running of The Latchetts, the estate & horse stud that would provide a precarious living for the family. Precarious, that is, until Simon, now the heir to his mother’s fortune after Patrick’s death, turns 21 when he will inherit.

Just before this milestone, a young man turns up claiming to be Patrick Ashby. From the beginning, the reader knows that he is not Patrick but an imposter. Brat Farrar was a foundling, brought up in an orphanage. When he runs into Alec Loding on a London street, Loding is overcome by the family resemblance to the Ashbys, mistaking Brat at first for Simon. Loding conceives a scheme to defraud the Ashbys & make his own life as an unsuccessful actor easier. Loding had grown up at the neighboring estate to Latchetts & knew the family intimately. He convinces Brat that the scheme can work & coaches him in the part. Brat soon finds himself enjoying the adrenaline &, in a short time, he has convinced the family lawyers & Bee that he is Patrick returned from the dead.

Brat’s own life has been anonymous enough that he can just tell his own story, apart from the motives for his disappearance & how he found himself in America. Brat had worked with horses there & loved it until an accident left him lame. The Latchetts is everything he had ever dreamt of & he soon finds himself in love with the house & everyone in it; everyone except Simon who curiously refuses to accept that Patrick has returned. Simon has been done out of the inheritance that for eight years he had confidently expected would be his. But, is there some other reason for his attitude than arrogance & bad temper? How long will Brat be able to keep up the pretence before someone or something trips him up?

This is such a wonderful book. I love Josephine Tey’s novels & I read them all many years ago. The Daughter of Time is the only one I regularly reread but I love them all. Tey is so good at the psychological motivations of her characters. We are aware of Brat’s emotions from the start –  suspicion of Loding’s motives, to the excitement of the game & deceiving people so successfully to the complications that arise when he is welcomed into the Ashby family & begins to feel ashamed at his deception of these people he has grown to love. There’s also his wariness of Simon as he tries to work out his feelings & account for his behaviour. Bee was my favourite character. She has given up her own life to care for her brother’s children (like Elizabeth Branwell, who left the warmth of Cornwall for Haworth after her sister’s death – I’m rereading Elizabeth Gaskell’s Life of Charlotte Brontë) & has endured not only his loss but that of Patrick as well. She is kind, loving & principled, refusing to touch the trust money even when the stud was in trouble & she, along with Simon & Eleanor, have kept Latchetts going.

Patrick comes alive to us as a sensitive, kind boy, as is evident in the joy that neighbours & tenants show on his return. Bee has been haunted by the thought of his final moments, wondering whether, at the last minute, he regretted his actions. One of the stumbling blocks for Bee in Patrick’s return is why he should never have written to her to let her know that he was safe. The Patrick she knew would not have been so cruel. Still, she welcomes Brat wholeheartedly & never reproaches him. Simon is arrogant, privileged & unlikeable but still, it’s not difficult to understand his shock at the change in his fortunes & the future he thought he would enjoy.

Tey is also good at creating a world, in this case, a horse stud & riding school. I’m not interested in horses at all but she made that world, with its horse shows, racing, riding lessons for bored schoolchildren & the precariousness of success where a bad season could almost destroy the business, very real & interesting. The minor characters are also interesting – vicar George Peck & his beautiful wife, Nancy, who is Alec Loding’s sister & was once the belle of county society, shepherd Abel, fussy Mr Sandal the lawyer, Lana Adams, the “help” who epitomises the new breed of household help post WWII & Glaswegian Mr Macallan, the local reporter who hopes his story about the Ashby resurrection will get him onto the front pages of the London papers. I couldn’t help but think that Tey made him Scots because of her background. I must find out if there’s a model in her life for all the young American men who pop up in her books – Brat & Brent Carradine in The Daughter of Time & I’m sure there was one in The Singing Sands. I could always read the recent biography on the tbr shelves, I suppose!

I listened to Brat Farrar on audio, read by Carole Boyd, one of my favourite narrators.

Anglophilebooks.comThere is a copy of Brat Farrar available from Anglophile Books.

Deadlier Than the Male – Jessica Mann

In 1981, Jessica Mann wrote Deadlier Than the Male. As the subtitle says, it’s An investigation into feminine crime writing. Last year, it was released as an eBook with a new Foreward by the author. As I’ve always been interested in the authors Mann investigates – Agatha Christie, Dorothy L Sayers, Ngaio Marsh, Margery Allingham & Josephine Tey – I’m almost sure I read the book when it was first published. However, that was a long time ago & I was interested to see what the landscape of women’s crime writing was like 35 years ago & whether I would agree with Mann’s opinions on the women known as the Queens of Crime.

The first half of the book is a survey of the development of the crime novel & the different types of hero & heroine. The second half concentrates on the five authors & gives an account of their lives & careers. I found it fascinating to read of the many forgotten novelists whose work had not survived but who have recently been reprinted in series such as the British Library Crime Classics. Mann suggests that their work just wasn’t good enough to survive but tastes change & what was seen as irredeemably old-fashioned 50 years after publication is seen as fascinatingly retro after 85 years. The availability of digital publishing has also made the work of a lot of forgotten authors available again & I think that phenomenon helped to create the appetite for Golden Age mysteries that has been satisfied by the many reprints we’re enjoying now.

One comment that I had to smile at referred to

… the numerous excellent writers like Margaret Kennedy, E M Delafield, Angela Thirkell and Storm Jameson, to mention only a few, whose sensitive and literate novels are out of fashion now.

All these authors have been reprinted as paperback or eBook editions in the last few years & are enjoying quite a revival. Even more delicious is that the revival of “sensitive and literate” women’s fiction owes so much to Jessica Mann’s sister, Nicola Beauman, founder of Persephone Books. That’s just a tangent but I couldn’t resist quoting it as an example of how our reading lives have changed for the better & our access to books has broadened since the 1980s.

Mann discusses the appeal of crime fiction in the twentieth century & argues that the chaos of life leads to a desire for order which is satisfied by a novel that creates order out of strife. The popularity of mystery novels focusing on murder & disruption during WWII would seem counter-intuitive but, on the contrary, there was a feeling of reassurance in reading a novel that tied up all the loose ends & restored normal life at the end. Crime was the most popular genre during the War & the puzzle detective novel was at its height during the 1940s. Exotic settings, in an age when foreign travel was more difficult & unusual, added another layer to the reader’s enjoyment. Agatha Christie set her books in the Middle East, Egypt & the south of France as well as in St Mary Mead & London. Closed communities – from a wartime hospital to a fashion house, theatre or Oxford college – were also popular & the authors that used these settings often knew them intimately. If you’re a reader of Golden Age crime, you’ll recognize those settings & the authors all made use of either personal experience or detailed research to make the books unforgettable.

Mann also contrasts the formulaic novels of the Golden Age with their stock characters & bloodless corpses with the more realistic thrillers that were published in the 1960s & 1970s. She describes the difference as …between optimism and pessimism, almost, in some cases between hope and despair. Formula may bring a sense of comfort but greater realism was inevitable as society changed after the War. Even Agatha Christie, whose novels relied more on fiendish plotting than on description of either character or place, tried, not always successfully, to move with the times in her novels written in the 1950s & 1960s. The continued popularity of these writers is also remarkable & most of them continued writing after the period that has become known as the Golden Age. Dorothy L Sayers stopped writing detective fiction in the late 1930s but her books have never been out of print & Mann sees them as the books that can be read with pleasure as novels even after the reader knows the denouement of the plot (I agree with that. Sayers is one of the few detective novelists I reread often for the pleasure of revisiting the 1930s). Margery Allingham died in 1966 & Josephine Tey in 1952 but they are still popular, maybe even more so now than in the 1980s when Mann was writing. Ngaio Marsh was the only one of the five authors alive when Mann wrote Deadlier Than the Male (Marsh died in 1982).

In her quest to discover why these “respectable English women” (Marsh was a New Zealander & Tey was Scottish but they both mainly set their books in England) are so good at writing about murder, Mann looks at their lives & careers.

… I believe that their experiences tended to induce in them similar assumptions: that stability was desirable, and when threatened, should be restored; that reason should prevail over violence; that the customs of a secure and unthreatened class had an intrinsic merit. I think that the ethos they expressed in fictional form was acquired during and from their own lives, and was equally attractive and admirable to readers less able to express it.

The biographical details of the writers’ lives are briskly told. She looks at the trajectory of each author’s career, from Dorothy L Sayers quite openly admitting that she wrote the Wimsey books for money & stopped when she discovered something else that she wanted to devote herself to (her translations of Dante) to Margery Allingham’s pragmatic desire to write books that will sell (she came from a family of writers). Josephine Tey & Ngaio Marsh were much more interested in the theatre. Tey wrote some successful plays & referred to her detective novels as her knitting while Marsh wrote to finance her theatrical work, producing plays, especially Shakespeare & her crime fiction was very much in second place. Mann knows the work of all these writers well & can discuss plot & the development of character. The reticence of these five writers about their personal lives may have led them to write detective fiction with its strict rules & conventions rather than more personal forms of fiction. They would be unlikely to be completely comfortable writing thrillers like Patricia Highsmith, with her fascination in the character of the criminal or like Ruth Rendell & P D James, who write much more realistically & graphically about murder & about the effects on those who come into contact with it. She sees writers of romantic suspense, like Mary Stewart & Helen MacInnes, as the heirs to the Golden Age writers, rather than crime writers who tear away the veil of respectability & look at evil so directly.

Deadlier Than the Male is a great overview of the development of detective fiction & the work of these five women writers in particular. Although there have been many biographies & critical volumes devoted to these writers, Mann’s insights into the influence of the life on the work & her judgements on the work, are still very relevant today.

Miss Pym Disposes – Josephine Tey

I love Josephine Tey’s books & it’s been ages since I reread one (apart from The Daughter of Time which I reread at least once a year although that has more to do with my Richard III obsession). Her books are all so different. As well as the Inspector Grant novels she also wrote several books, Brat Farrer, The Franchise Affair & Miss Pym Disposes, that aren’t strictly detective novels but all have a mystery or crime at their heart. I bought these lovely US paperback editions a few years ago intending to reread them all but it wasn’t until Saturday afternoon that I sat down to begin reading Miss Pym Disposes & didn’t move until I’d finished it.

Miss Lucy Pym intended to teach French to schoolgirls all her life but a timely legacy & an interest in psychology led her to write a bestseller & become a minor celebrity. She is invited to give a lecture on psychology at the Leys, a physical training college run by her old schoolfriend, Henrietta Hodge, & finds herself drawn into a self-contained world with all the passions & emotions of the outside world.

The senior class is about to take its final exams & give a Demonstration of their gymnastic skills when Lucy Pym arrives. Intending to stay only one night (she’s appalled by the unimaginative food & the horror of a wake-up bell that rings at 5am), Lucy becomes involved in the student’s lives & stays on & on. Pamela “Beau” Nash is Head Girl & devoted to her best friend, clever but aloof Mary Innes. The four Disciples (Mathews, Waymark, Lucas & Littlejohn, who finish each others sentences) Irish O’Donnell, the two Scottish girls, Campbell & Stewart, who keep up a centuries old feud & Rouse, who no one much likes. Rouse always manages to say the obvious thing & enjoys the mistakes of others while toadying to Miss Hodge. Then there’s the Nut Tart, an exotic Brazilian student, Teresa Desterro, who looks on with amused detachment at her fellow students & the staff.

Lucy enjoys watching the students rehearsing their pieces for the gymnastic & dancing demonstrations, is invited to tea & enjoys walking in the grounds & visiting the nearby village. She is even invited to invigilate an exam & foils a student’s planned cheating by destroying her crib notes. Miss Hodge has made the Leys college into a respected institution & she always has several teaching posts at other schools to offer the final year students. This year, there is great excitement as the best girls school in England, Arlinghurst, has asked if there is a Leys student who would be suitable for a post at the school. This is an unheard-of honour for a newly qualified PE teacher & everyone assumes that Mary Innes will be the chosen one. When Miss Hodge offers the post to another student, the scene is set for tragedy.

I remembered the solution of the mystery, even though it must be 20 years since I read it. This time, though, I was able to spot the subtle clues that point to the culprit. Lucy realises that her own actions have helped to create the crisis & has a difficult choice to make once she thinks she knows the truth about the accident that may really have been premeditated murder.

Apart from the mystery, I love the setting & the period of this book. First published in 1947, it nevertheless has a feeling of the 30s. I loved the scene where Lucy & Teresa have tea in the village & meet a couple who turn out to be Mary Innes’s parents. Lucy amuses herself by creating a life for these strangers based on her observations of dress & attitude,

It was not often, moreover, that one saw a middle-aged husband and wife so pleased with each other, Lucy thought, as she watched them come in. They had a holiday air. They came in and looked about them expectantly, questioningly… His suit was very old, she noticed; well-pressed and kept, but with that much-cleaned air that overtakes a garment in its old age. The woman’s suit, a tweed, was frankly shabby, and her stockings were darned – very neatly darned – at the heels.Her hands, too, looked as if they were accustomed to household tasks, and her fine grey hair was washed at home and unwaved. What had she got to look so happy about, this woman who struggled with straitened means? Was it just being on holiday with a husband she loved? Was it that that gave her grey luminous eyes their almost childlike happiness?

This just conjured up so many middleclass Englishwomen I’ve read about in those between the wars novels beloved by Persephone & Virago readers & seen in the movies. Laura in Brief Encounter, Mrs Miniver, the Provincial Lady, Ellen Fenwick (from Lettice Cooper’s Fenny), Catherine in Elizabeth Cambridge’s Hostages to Fortune. Josephine Tey is so good at characterization. I felt I knew the Innes’s even though we only meet them briefly in a couple of scenes.

I also love a good mystery set in a closed society like a school or a convent. Gaudy Night by Dorothy L Sayers is my all-time favourite but there are many more. Cat Among the Pigeons by Agatha Christie, Death among the Dons by Janet Neel, Quiet as a Nun by Antonia Fraser, the list goes on. I also have another book on the tbr shelf which I’m tempted to read next. On Your Marks by Gladys Mitchell isn’t a murder mystery even though the blurb mentions a couple of minor mysteries that Dame Gladys couldn’t resist (who drained the swimming pool?). It’s a school story, set in a physical training college like the Leys, one of the many career stories for girls written in the mid twentieth century. It was originally published in 1954 & recently reprinted by Greyladies. Both Mitchell & Tey worked in PE colleges so I’d be interested to see how their pictures differ. But, now that I’ve started rereading Tey, I’d like to read another of her books as well. Maybe The Singing Sands or the first Inspector Grant novel, The Man in the Queue? Decisions, decisions.

Anglophilebooks.comThere’s a copy of Miss Pym Disposes, and other books by Josephine Tey, available at Anglophile Books.

Taking a break

I’m taking a little break from blogging for a week or two. Summer has been going on quite long enough for me but somehow it doesn’t look like ending any time soon. Summer in Melbourne usually means three hot days & a cool change. So far, we’ve had a week of temperatures over 30C & there’s almost another week to come. So I’m feeling a bit wrung out. I’m doing lots of rereading – A Glass of Blessings by Barbara Pym, Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey, dipping into Kathleen Jamie’s Sightlines & reading some of the piles of magazines & journals tottering on the coffee table. I’ve been listening to Jeeves & the Feudal Spirit by P G Wodehouse read by the inimitable Jonathan Cecil on the way to work which has made me laugh every morning & I’ve also discovered the delights of history documentaries on Youtube so I’ve been In Search of the Dark Ages with Michael Wood & having a wonderful time.
I’ll still pop in with some Sunday Poetry, Wordsworth this week. And I’ll leave you with some links & some bookish news.

The Virago reprints of Rumer Godden’s novels are here. I preordered these three last year & they arrived this week. I love stories about nuns & In This House of Brede is one of my favourites. I’ve seen the movie of Black Narcissus but never read the book & I have a copy of A Fugue in Time that I picked up from a secondhand bookshop. I believe China Court is a sequel or reimagining of the earlier book. Leave & Pages has reviewed A Fugue in Time here.

For all the Ricardians & Janeites out there, here’s a lovely blog post about the connections between Richard III & Jane Austen. I knew that Jane was a Yorkist but I’d never really considered before her dislike of the name Richard.

Greyladies are publishing a couple of very tempting books this month. Reading about the Gladys Mitchell book, On Your Marks, about a young PE teacher reminded me of Josephine Tey’s Miss Pym Disposes & this recent review has inspired me to reread it. The other new book from Greyladies is Return to the West by Mabel Esther Allan & has a Scottish setting so I have to have that too. I’m calling them belated birthday presents to myself as I’ve been on the book buying wagon since Christmas.

See you after the cool change!

Holiday Monday

It’s a holiday Monday here today, the official public holiday for Australia Day, January 26th. The weather has cooled right down in Melbourne & it looks set to be mild, if not cool, for the next week. Other parts of Australia are dealing with fire, torrential rain & flooding so hopefully the weather improves for them as well. I’d be very pleased with a little rain at the moment. We’ve had no rain since before Christmas & my tanks are nearly dry. I used mains water on the garden for the first time in years last weekend. You can see how dry the lawn is in the photo of Phoebe I took this morning. She’s just about to pounce on that stick but she’s seen Lucky quietly minding her own business in the corner of the garden

& she thinks maybe chasing Lucky is going to be more fun than playing with an old stick. Lucky had been supervising my tidying up of dead branches & cutting back the camellia & hebe so I can get to the big water tank more easily.

Another of Phoebe’s favourite places to survey her kingdom is the car. Lucky runs away from the camera but Phoebe poses, revelling in the attention which is just what she believes she deserves.

I’m still looking for ways to use up the zucchini glut so I’ve made another cake to take into work tomorrow. This time it’s a zucchini, almond & chocolate cake. I’m also planning to make some pesto this afternoon although I had to buy a bunch of basil to make it. Last year, I had so much basil that I was able to freeze pesto & I was still eating it in the winter. I don’t think I’ll be doing that this year. I also finally have a couple of tomatoes changing colour so I think they’ll be ready to eat this week.

The other theme of my long weekend has been Richard III. The results of the scientific tests on the remains found in a car park in Leicester will be announced next Monday & I’m beside myself with excitement. The Richard III Society have funded a facial reconstruction of the skeleton & they will be producing a special Ricardian Bulletin for their members with details of all this work. There will also be a documentary on Channel 4 next Monday night, The King in the Car Park, & I would love to be in the UK to be able to see this. Fingers crossed it’s released on DVD or picked up by TV here. The film crew followed the archaeological team throughout the dig & were there for the great discovery &m the scientific tests that have taken place over the last few months. It’s all looking very much as if the team will be announcing that the remains are those of Richard III. The title of the doco gives it away, doesn’t it?

So, I’ve been rereading Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time for the umpteenth time. I’ve written about my love for this book here & I also have a biography of Richard by David Baldwin so I may read that next. I read on Facebook that the paperback edition of Baldwin’s book will be released soon with extra chapters on the dig & its results. If the remains are those of Richard, it won’t give us a definitive answer to the mystery of the Princes in the Tower or whether he poisoned his wife & planned to marry his niece. However, it will clear up some myths about his appearance. The hunchback myth could be dismissed at last & the facial reconstruction will be fascinating. The wounds on the skeleton could also answer the question of how Richard died. So, lots of interest in not just the central question – is it Richard? – but also the scientific tests & their analysis will keep historians busy for some time to come.

A Most Contagious Game – Catherine Aird

A Most Contagious Game was published in 1967, the second mystery novel published by Catherine Aird. It’s the only one of her novels that doesn’t feature Inspector Sloan of the Calleshire CID although it is set in Calleshire, Aird’s fictional county town. It had never been reprinted until the wonderful Rue Morgue Press reprinted it in 2007. I love Rue Morgue. They’ve brought back into print many authors of the Golden Age & after. I have several of their books by Joanna Cannan (who wrote the Persephone title, Princes in the Land), Dorothy Bowers & Katharine Farrer. The Introductions to their books are also full of fascinating information about the author. Apparently the publishers met Catherine Aird at a mystery convention in Bristol &, in the course of conversation, decided to reprint A Most Contagious Game. They’ve gone on to reprint several of the Sloan mysteries which I remember with affection for their wit & sly humour as well as the English village settings.

The story is a lovely homage to Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time as well as being an absorbing mystery in its own right. Thomas Harding has been forced to retire because of ill health. He & his wife, Dora, move from London to the village of Easterbrook where they buy the local Elizabethan manor house. Thomas is restless, bored & irritated until the day he discovers a secret room in the house, a priest hole. Even more surprising is the skeleton inside the priest hole. The house was built by a family of Elizabethan Catholics so it’s not surprising that the house had a secret room where Catholic priests could be hidden as they travelled around the country saying Mass. The family were forced to sell the house after they were prosecuted as recusants & the Barbary family moved in. The Barbarys owned the Manor for 300 years and, when the skeleton is found to have died about 150 years ago, & to have been murdered, Thomas wants to know who the victim was & who murdered him.

Thomas discovers that the body is that of young Toby Barbary, the 15 year old son of Sir Tobias, who mysteriously disappeared just months before his father’s gallant death at Waterloo in 1815. Toby had been hit on the back of the head but why & who could have put his body in the secret room? While Thomas is busy with his researches into history, Easterbrook is transfixed by another murder. Mary Fenny has been found strangled in her bed & her husband, Alan, has disappeared. The police seem quite sure that Alan is guilty but the villagers have very different ideas. Thomas’s researches into the history of Easterbrook lead him to some clues about Mary Fenny’s murder & he gradually gets to know the villagers & begins to feel less of a stranger.

I loved this book. It’s a wonderful combination of history, mystery & village life. I enjoyed the fact that Thomas’s researches took place in libraries, churchyards & newspaper archives rather than on the internet. The characters are well-rounded, from the wise Vicar, Cyprian Martindale, to Charlie Ford, electrician & undertaker, to Gladys the household help. There’s even a young American, Sir Thaddeus Barbary from Detroit, a nod to Tey’s habit of introducing young Americans into her plots wherever she could. He even talks like Brent Carradine in Daughter of Time. Sir Thaddeus, or Tad as he’s known, arrives in answer to Thomas’s letter to him about when his ancestors left Easterbrook. There’s always been a secret shame in the family & Tad, as the last survivor, is determined to find out why his ancestor left England & why his father told him the family was cursed & could never return.

In the Introduction to this edition, Catherine Aird says that she never wrote another stand-alone novel because her publishers wanted more Sloans. What a pity. I believe that Aird was working on a biography of Josephine Tey at some point. Tey was a famously private woman so I imagine the research would be difficult, to say the least. If it’s ever published, it would be a must-read for fans of both these fine mystery writers.

Rejecting Tonypandy

It’s not often that you can pinpoint the beginning of an obsession. My obsession with Richard III began in around 1978 in the library at Lalor North High School in the northern suburbs of Melbourne. I picked up a detective novel by an author I’d just discovered. But, this was no ordinary detective novel. This was The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey. Since then, I’ve read the book at least a dozen times, it’s become one of my favourite comfort reads. I’ve gone on to read many other books about Richard III, the Wars of the Roses & medieval history, both fiction & non fiction. I’ve joined the Richard III Society. All this because I read a slim book about a detective, stuck in a hospital bed after injuring his back chasing after a criminal, who relieves his boredom by investigating one of the greatest crimes in history – the murder of the Princes in the Tower.

Inspector Alan Grant features in most of Josephine Tey’s detective novels. He’s a detective in the style of Alleyn & Campion – urbane, civilised, handsome & intelligent. Lying in his hospital bed, bored with the pile of novels given to him by well-meaning friends, he’s visited by Marta Hallard, an actress who became a friend after Grant retrieved her emeralds from a thief.  She brings him a pile of prints, portraits of famous historical figures who were the principals in classic mysteries. Grant can’t do any physical detecting but why shouldn’t he exercise his brain on a classic historical mystery instead?

Grant has made a study of faces, becoming an expert at separating the villains from the good guys by the way they look. When he picks up a portrait of a man in 15th century dress, he thinks he must be a great judge or noble because of the expression of nobility & suffering in the man’s face. He is shocked to discover that this is a portrait of Richard III, the wicked uncle of horror stories. The man who not only murdered his nephews but old, mad Henry VI, Henry’s son Edward, poisoned his own wife & scandalously wanted to marry his niece. How could Grant have got it so wrong? He begins by getting hold of Nurse Darroll’s schoolbooks, then Marta gets him a copy of Thomas More’s History of Richard III & his colleague, Sergeant Williams, brings him a stodgy history of England & a historical novel about Richard’s mother, the Rose of Raby. Thoroughly confused by now, Marta introduces Grant to Brent Carradine, a young American doing research at the British Museum as a way of staying in England to be with his girlfriend, an actress in Marta’s company. As Brent says when they start the investigation,

Look, Mr Grant, let’s you and I start at the very beginning of this thing. Without history books, or modern versions or anyone’s opinion about anything. Truth isn’t in accounts but in account books.

Brent goes back to the original sources & they discover that most of the stories told about Richard were written to please the Tudor dynasty after Henry Tudor defeated Richard at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485. History is written by the victors & Thomas More’s account of events he was too young to have witnessed influenced Shakespeare who wrote the play that has defined mainstream opinion of Richard as a traitorous hunchbacked murderer of innocents ever since. Grant & Carradine realise that much of the history they learnt at school is just wrong, manipulated by the victors & accepted as fact, which is where Tonypandy comes in.

Tonypandy is a village in Wales where government troops were said to have shot striking miners in 1910. The facts were quite different & Tonypandy becomes shorthand for every falsehood written down in history books & taught in school as gospel truth hundreds of years after the fact. The result of their research is that Grant & Brent conclude that Richard had nothing to do with the Princes’s deaths & that they probably survived him & were murdered by order of Henry VII. Josephine Tey paints such a heroic picture of Richard & such a dastardly one of Henry that thousands of readers have been convinced of Richard’s innocence on the strength of this one book. Many people cite the novel as the beginning of their fascination with Richard & it leads many to join the Richard III Society.

Of course, The Daughter of Time is fiction. It was published in 1951 & research has uncovered a lot more information about the period since then. Vital contemporary sources such as Dominic Mancini’s account of life in London at the crucial period when Richard assumed the throne weren’t discovered until after the book was published. The “white” version of Richard’s story promoted by early Ricardians to counteract the extremely “black” version of More & Shakespeare is just as biased. After reading The Daughter of Time, Richard was my hero. I believed that he was a noble, kind, wise, generous man who would never have killed his own nephews & who only took the throne because he believed he was the only legitimate heir.

Over the last 30 years, I’ve read dozens of books & articles about Richard & I lean more towards a “grey” version of the legend now. The 15th century was a brutal period when violence was often seen as a solution to a dispute & power was the ultimate goal. Richard was no different & probably no more scrupulous than any other prince of his time. I don’t believe there will ever be a definitive account of the death of the Princes now but the fact that they were never seen alive after about August 1483 (two months after Richard’s accession) is a damning fact that does not go away, no matter how many books I read that paint Richard as more sinned against than sinning.

However, the fact that my feelings about the historical Richard have changed can’t diminish my enjoyment of this wonderful novel. I still read it at least once a year, for the nostalgic picture of London in the 1950s, to read about the excitement of research & to visit Alan Grant in his comfortable hospital bed, eating rissoles & rhubarb, rewriting history in the most entertaining detective novel ever written.

Excuses, excuses




I won’t have much time to post this week. I’ve just finished reading Barbara Pym’s Less than Angels which I loved. I read it years ago but I treated myself to the new Virago edition & I enjoyed meeting Catherine again – one of my favourite Pym heroines. I’ll review it properly at the weekend but here’s Desperate Reader’s enthusiastic review to whet your appetite.

Tomorrow night I’m helping out at an annual Library Week event we hold in partnership with our local Borders store. It’s called Bag A Book. Our patrons come along to Borders & choose 2 books for their local library’s collection. It’s a very successful event. This year we’ve had to cap the numbers at 225. People love choosing books with someone else’s money (I know, I do it for a living) & they take it very seriously. I find it amazing that there are rarely any duplicates – apart from the year we ended up with 5 copies of Gordon Ramsay’s latest cookbook – & everyone takes a lot of care in their choice. We offer to put a bookplate in the books so they can go along to the library & visit “their” book.

Then, on Wednesday I’m going to Sydney for the day to visit a new supplier. That will be a long day. I’ll have to leave home at about 6.30 & won’t be home until after 8. At least I can read on the plane. I’m not sure what to take. A favourite comfort read like Josephine Tey’s Daughter of Time? Or something new from my tbr table like Allan Quatermain? But what if big game hunting in Africa doesn’t grab my attention? Maybe I’ll take both, the Tey is very slim, I should be able to fit both in my bag.

I’ll leave you with a couple of photos of my tbr shelves in the late afternoon light. You can see my Folio Society books, OUP classics, books about Jane Austen, some history & literary biographies. There’s also a photo of the tbr table. Enjoy your week, whatever you’re doing.