The recent news that the skeleton of King Richard III of England has been found (under a car park in Leicester) may have you thinking about this seminal figure of English history, a lightening rod for controversy from his lifetime to the present. Was he the cruel, twisted, power mad monster responsible for killing the two Princes in the Tower? Or was he a benevolent, innovative leader, wrongly maligned by history?
Most of us know about Richard through Shakespeare and his scathing depiction of him as an evil hunchback in his play Richard III (it is fact that Richard suffered from severe scoliosis) However, take a minute to remember the ruler Shakespeare lived under – Elizabeth I, direct descendant of Henry VII who defeated Richard at the Battle of Bosworth, claiming (rather tenuously) the throne of England. History, as Tey points out, is written by the victors. While we’re unlikely to answer the question definitively, it’s a fascinating question to debate by examining the life of Richard and the times he lived in. Rather than digging through dense academic tomes though, I’d like to point you to Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time, an excellent detective story that will entertain as well as give you lots to think about.
In The Daughter of Time, Scotland Yard Inspector Alan Grant is laid up in the hospital, recovering from a broken leg. To save off boredom he begins reading history and becomes intrigued by the mystery surrounding Richard III. With the help of a researcher, he applies his investigative skills to study the controversial King’s life and the people around him. Written in the early 1950s, Inspector Grant does not have the advantage of google or wikipedia, instead using old-fashioned observation and deduction. The story builds and the evidence grows; Tey is masterful in creating tension and complex characters true to their time period. By the time Inspector Grant is ready to leave the hospital, he is convinced by his findings – will you be too? Can truth indeed be the daughter of time?
Charles Todd’s A Duty to the Dead (the first mystery in the Bess Crawford series) has far too much life and vigor for the god-awful cover design it’s been dealt. It’s really a hideous cover: the image, the colors, the fonts, they’re all drab and uninteresting. But if you can look past them, this is an engaging mystery novel with a heroine anyone would love.
Bess Crawford is a gentleman’s daughter and an Army nurse in the Great War (if you’re thinking of Lady Sybil Crawley right now, you’re not alone!). She’s injured when the hospital ship Britannic is sunk, and during her convalescent leave, she visits the family of Arthur Graham, a wounded soldier she befriended, to deliver the deathbed message he begged her to pass on to his brother. What she finds in the Graham hometown of Owlhurst is a web of secrets and lies that the all-too-British neighbors have happily swept under the rug while they keep calm and carry on.
Bess is in-demand in Owlhurst for her nursing skills, and before long she is pressed into duty caring for a shell-shocked soldier and a possible lunatic. The effect of witnessed horrors and repressed violent memories on the mind is a big part of this novel, which is as much psychiatric as it is suspenseful. In a time when mental health was imperfectly understood, Bess’s intuitively modern understanding of the way our brains work is a mark in her favor.
While you’re waiting (and waiting… and waiting … ) for Downton Abbey to come to US shores next January, this novel can help fill the gap. Its shared setting, dealings with the same issues (the affect of the war on families back home), and the similarities between Sybil and Bess will keep you in the mindset of Downton while you wait for season 3.
In addition to listening to an audiobook while on a long car ride, books on CD are a great way to pass the time while gardening or listening to while cleaning the house, or just about anything else! One of my most recent discoveries is a great mystery with a hint of “chick lit,” Twenties Girl by Sophie Kinsella.
Young, London-based businesswoman Lara Lington has just learned that her 105-year old great-aunt has just passed away – an aunt that she did not even know. While attending Sadie’s funeral, Lara hears voices and catches an occasional glimpse of a young woman dressed in 1920s attire. She then realizes that the young woman is not an illusion but is actually the ghost of Sadie at age 23! Sadie has decided to relentlessly haunt her grand-niece in order to nearly force Lara to help her find her most prized possession, a dazzling, diamond, dragonfly necklace that was stolen before she died. The pair form an unlikely duo that argue, confide in each other and share a friendship in the most unlikely of ways – all while solving the mystery of the missing necklace.
Twenties Girl has a little bit for everyone -mystery, romance, intrigue and comedy. A definite recommended read – you may find yourself circling your block a few dozen times to find out how the book ends!