The Blurb On The Back:
Inspector Alan Grant of Scotland Yard, recuperating from a broken leg, becomes fascinated with a contemporary portrait of Richard III that bears no resemblance to the Wicked Uncle of history. Could such a sensitive, noble face actually belong to one of the world’s most heinous villains – a venomous hunchback who may have killed his brother’s children to make his crown secure? Or could Richard have been the victim, turned into a monster by the usurpers of England’s throne?
Grant determines to find out once and for all, with the help of the British Museum and an American scholar, what kind of man Richard Plantagenet really was and who killed the Princes in the Tower.
The Review (Cut For Spoilers):
When Inspector Alan Grant takes falls through a trap door while in pursuit of a criminal, he breaks his leg and ends up enduring an enforced stay in hospital with little to do other than look at the ceiling or tackle a stack of disagreeable novels that well-meaning friends have left for him. Then his friend Marta Hallard suggests he turns his detective skills towards one of the great mysteries in history and after looking at a portrait of Richard III, settles on looking into whether Richard really did murder his nephews in the so-called Princes in the Tower deaths. With the help of historical researcher Brent Carradine, he begins to unpick the historical record to get to the facts of what actually happened to the princes and whether Richard really was the hunchback villain everyone knows to hate …
The 5th book in Josephine Tey’s ALAN GRANT SERIES is a clever look at the murder of the Princes in the Tower, using a mix of fiction and historical record and a detective’s acumen to try and work out whether Richard was guilty or framed. I had not read the previous books but this works as a standalone novel given its focus on the history and while Tey makes clear where her sympathies lie, she nonetheless builds a compelling case that I enjoyed.
I was given this as a Christmas present, having asked for it after seeing the novel appear on a list as one of the best crime novels ever written. I wasn’t really familiar with Tey’s work before reading this – I had seen an adaptation of THE FRANCHISE AFFAIR many years ago but my memories of it were hazy – so didn’t come into it with any preconceptions.
There isn’t a huge amount of character or relationship development in the book. Grant is tetchy and bored due to his broken leg and in need of diversion and although Tey does give a sense of the ease of his relationship with Marta (a stage actress trapped in a play whose success means there’s no chance of it closing to allow her to do something new) and some background on his ability to get under the skin of criminals, there isn’t much more fleshing out and his scenes with Carradine are perfunctory, there to get to the next bit of historical revelation. I actually didn’t mind that though because the real meat of the book is the exoneration of Richard and the rehabilitation of his character.
To do that, Tey has Grant go through a variety of historical documents and fictional sources to look at Richard as a man and what happened to the princes. It’s a clever technique (and I have to say that I thought at one point that one of the fictional books was real because of the way Tey recreates parts of the text and has Grant critique it). I also enjoyed how Tey brings in Carradine, an American researcher who has been focusing on the Peasant’s Revolt but whose “outsider” status means that he’s open to re-examining the record and excited by what he starts to uncover. I also enjoyed how Grant uses his policeman’s acumen to see what he can deduce from a portrait of Richard and what he knows of criminals and their behaviour.
Tey is in no doubt as to Richard’s case and although I don’t know a great deal of the period, I have to say that she makes a convincing and compelling case that I found really interesting to follow. Tey also doesn’t talk down to her reader, assuming that they have some familiarity with the subject and writing in an intelligent way that jumps across the historic record without patronising the reader.
All in all I found this an absorbing read that kept my hooked from beginning to end and I will definitely be checking out Tey’s other Grant novels on the basis of this.