Josephine Tey’s story is about a man in the hospital. Except no, it isn’t really about that. It is about his fight against boredom. His solving the mystery of the Princes in the Tower, about learning who Richard the Third actually was and why he has become synonymous with “monster”.
The entire story takes place in one hospital room, where the main character Grant is currently laid up. He is a policeman, with an interest in faces. Bored out of his mind, as he is unable to even sit up as he recovers from an injury, a friend brings him a collection of portraits, including one of Richard III. When his first impression of the man is so at odds from what is common knowledge of him, Grant begins his investigation.
I will admit first thing that parts of this book were difficult for me. Not any fault of the book itself, but because the entire mystery was focused on English history, and I am an American who is very aware they barely learnt American history accurately back in school. Lots of Edwards and Richards and Henrys as well – and not that I haven’t heard of any of them, but when they are all put in the same place I was quickly confused. Because of this I had to spend some time going up front to the family tree, hoping to keep it straight there. I succeeded somewhat. Despite this, it did not lessen my enjoyment of this book any.
I did not expect that the entire book would take place within one room and this was not a detriment. The staff of the hospital, caring for Grant, and his visitors from the “outside world” were dramatic points of comparison between themselves and Grant, or between each other. How the nurses did not believe looking into such “terrible histories” would help Grant’s leg heal. The progress of the historian Carradine as he is drawn into Grant’s investigation.
Actually, I think the conversations and Grant’s perception of the changes in Carradine were some of the most intriguing parts of the book outside of the mystery itself. Carradine wants to make some name for himself here in England, so he can remain with his actress girlfriend and not be dragged home by his father to enter the furniture sales business. Him rekindling a passion in history and his blossoming friendship with Grant is heartwarming.
Whether you believe the case presented in this book or not, whatever the truth of the Princes of the Tower, this book promotes perhaps one of the most important focus on history: for which Grant uses the term “Tonypandy”. So many historical fallacies, taken for truth, repeated in history textbooks and by historians themselves, despite truthfully being supported by very little. In the end, it almost didn’t matter whether Richard had done the deed. Grant was incensed mostly because he was condemned by public opinion, not because any fact had come out at the time to suggest his guilt. Even if in the coming years something were to be uncovered, proving Richard III as the murderer of his two nephews, it would not change this truth: facts are often hidden by public sentiment.
This book is a must read for those interested in history, and even more for those who are, or need to be, aware of popular fiction passed on to us as fact. This book relishes in the importance of doing your own research and not taking everything you hear for granted.