Reading dates: 26 October – 3 December 2023
I was at the John Smith library in Glasgow, making time before teaching a workshop and, in my browsing, I came across a little book on display in the mystery section. It was from the Macmillan Collector’s imprint, of which I own Muriel Spark’s The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and Wilkie Collins’s The Moonstone, two of my favourite novels. Inside the flap, it said that The Daughter of Time has been voted the best crime novel by the UK Crime Writers Association. I had never heard of Josephine They, who was born in Inverness and I got the book to remedy that and to know what crime writing professionals think it is the most accomplished novel.
It did not disappoint. It is the story of a police detective, Alan Grant, in hospital because of an accident when he was pursuing a criminal. He gets bored and does not want to read the crime novels his friends give him. Martha, an actress friend of his, remembers how much he likes to read faces and gives him a collection of portraits of historical people with a mystery in their story. Among them is a portrait of King Richard III who Grant reads as kind and suffering, not as the murderer Shakespeare and many history books portrayed him as. So the work of detection begins, and it is spectacular.
Tey’s prose is clear and charming, full of wit and every single character is wonderful. I could see it adapted to TV like Tinker Tailor or Pride and Prejudice. She innovates the genre in a really easy manner, which I am sure has hardship behind. It did remind me of Spark: the conciseness, the air, and the beautiful female characters. I am very impressed by Ms Tey and I will be reading more of her.
Nothing puts things in perspective as quickly as a mountain.’
‘The stars are better, I find.’
‘Oh, no. The stars merely reduce one to the status of an amoeba. The stars take the last vestige of human pride, the last spark of confidence, from one. But a snow mountain is a nice human-size yardstick.
A man who is interested in what makes people tick doesn’t write history. He writes novels, or becomes an alienist, or a magistrate—’
‘Or a confidence man.’
‘Or a confidence man. Or a fortune-teller. A man who understands about people hasn’t any yen to write history. History is toy soldiers.’