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Just as I was warned, The Nursing Home Murder did take a sharp turn into eugenics territory toward the end, but [Spoiler!]the eugenicist WAS the murderer -- but maybe his fixation on hereditary insanity was ITSELF the result of hereditary insanity?]

I don't know. The investigation was not all that interesting as these things go, but I did enjoy the Straw Bolsheviks (whom Ngaio Marsh does not always seem to realize are not the same thing as anarchists?) and I hope Nigel makes good on his promise to join the ranks of fictional detective novelists who are also the friends of fictional detectives. As far as I am concerned, there can never be too many fictional detective-befriending detective novelists in the literary landscape.

It took me a couple of days to be able to pick up The Daughter of Time from the library, but it didn't matter, because once I started reading it I found it very difficult to stop. It's a very odd treat: Inspector Grant, a detective laid up in bed and bored after some humiliating detective heroics, gets interested in a real-life murder mystery (who really killed Richard III's nephews?) with the help of a real portrait and a mix of real and fictional sources. It's incredibly likable and fun. Grant is a gigantic snob, but that's par for this kind of course. He also genuinely believes that he can draw reliable conclusions about people, past and present, based on their facial features and expression, which, as some of you have already noted, is weird and a little off-putting.



Like Grant, I love portraits a lot. I like looking at them and I like reading other people's descriptions of them. Part of what I enjoy about portraits is the illusion they create of familiarity with the people in them. So even though I'm inclined to make fun of it, there's something intrinsically compelling about Grant's interest in Richard's portrait. At the same time, the idea of anyone making conclusions about me based on my spectacularly unflattering photographic record is pretty uncomfortable -- and the idea of using pseudo-scientific Face ESP as a major part of a criminal investigation, which is apparently Grant's special talent, makes all the alarm bells in my head go clanging.

I think I would buy it, with reservations, in an urban fantasy where it was really a kind of ESP, and I would happily accept Grant's interest in faces, and even his belief that he could totally tell if you were a criminal or not based on what your mouth does at the corners, if there was any sign of it being fallible. But Grant and the narrator both seem to be serenely confident in Grant's Face ESP, so it reads as goofy, implausible, and possibly unethical, even setting aside the rich seams of racism running inevitably underneath all this talk of forehead shapes and facial elasticity and whatever else.

Face ESP aside, the way Grant and his partners treated other examples of historical distortion did not always sit well with me. The Boston Massacre, for example, was romanticized and sensationalized for propaganda purposes, but four people being killed by occupation forces is still not actually an unreasonably small number of deaths to be upset about. Too often, Grant discovers that an incident didn't happen the way he thought, and rushes to re-imagine it as nothing at all. Events can be distorted by partisans without retroactively becoming meaningless, and Grant's case for Truth In History is undermined by how enthusiastically he leaps at the chance to throw annoying independence or labor movement babies out with any propagandistic bathwater he happens across.



Despite all that, The Daughter of Time is almost magically engaging. This is a story in which the detective does not leave his bed, and the action is 100% reading books, talking about Richard, and staring at a portrait -- yet I was almost late for work yesterday because I could not put it down for anything. It's really enjoyable to watch Grant go from boredom to curiosity to total absorption in his project; Tey re-creates the experience of being sucked down a research rabbit hole with beautiful speed and clarity. I'll probably read The Singing Sands or another Tey book soon; I'm interested to see how Inspector Grant operates when he's not stuck in a hospital bed.

Comments

( 11 comments — Leave a comment )
osprey_archer
Feb. 16th, 2015 09:42 pm (UTC)
This is a story in which the detective does not leave his bed, and the action is 100% reading books, talking about Richard, and staring at a portrait -- yet I was almost late for work yesterday because I could not put it down for anything.

Yes, this! This exactly! There's absolutely nothing in the way of action in this book, and not much character development (although I think Grant is less transparent as a detective than Alleyn), and yet watching them scuttle down the research rabbit hole is totally absorbing. I wish more novels had this sort of research thing going on.
evelyn_b
Feb. 17th, 2015 07:19 pm (UTC)
"Transparent" is a good word for Alleyn!

And yeah, I'm not sure that I can think of any examples, but I would totally read more novels about exciting research projects and mental voyages of discovery.
osprey_archer
Feb. 17th, 2015 08:51 pm (UTC)
Have I recommended Barbara Michaels' Houses of Stone to you before? It's not as purely researchy as Daughter of Time (it also has a thriller element, and also an itty bitty romance element that I am almost sure she tacked on at the end to soothe her nervous publisher), but it's about literary research and feminism as the heroine studies a long-lost early American Gothic novel.
evelyn_b
Feb. 18th, 2015 03:40 pm (UTC)
You have not! But now you have, and it sounds great!
wordsofastory
Feb. 17th, 2015 04:12 am (UTC)
I think I would buy it, with reservations, in an urban fantasy where it was really a kind of ESP, and I would happily accept Grant's interest in faces, and even his belief that he could totally tell if you were a criminal or not based on what your mouth does at the corners, if there was any sign of it being fallible. But Grant and the narrator both seem to be serenely confident in Grant's Face ESP, so it reads as goofy, implausible, and possibly unethical, even setting aside the rich seams of racism running inevitably underneath all this talk of forehead shapes and facial elasticity and whatever else.

That would be such an interesting magic concept! But yeah, I'm with you – I find it really hard to take seriously any book that portrays phrenology as real. It's such a silly concept, even aside from all the larger issues with it.
evelyn_b
Feb. 17th, 2015 07:34 pm (UTC)
IT'S JUST OBVIOUSLY NOT THE CASE. I mean, even if you took the basic premise and all the alleged facial trait/personality trait correspondences completely for granted, there are still so many other things that could happen to a face to make it look another way. You wouldn't be able to make accurate judgments because there are too many additional factors that go into what someone looks like on any given day. And you can't take the premise for granted in the first place, but EVEN IF YOU COULD.

And when you're looking at a photograph or a COPY OF A PAINTED PORTRAIT, there are even more contingencies! All the same, I like the idea of thinking someone in a painting has an interesting face and that interest leading to research. But "Richard looks nice!!!" is not evidence for the case.
lost_spook
Feb. 17th, 2015 01:46 pm (UTC)
:-D

*is amused* (On both counts, really.)

The investigation was not all that interesting as these things go

No, no, it really isn't, is it?

And, see, this is what I mean - Josephine Tey is good, and I can't trust her. Otherwise I shall be arresting myself for my obvious crimes next. I have to avoid her as a result, which is a shame. (As for Inspector Grant, I've only read The Franchise Affair and I don't think that lets you know much more about him, since he's merely a minor character in it. I don't know if that's also the case in The Singing Sands, but I imagine you'll soon find out.)

ETA: Actually, now that I think about it, I'm pretty sure Grant solely turns up to explain the crap about people's eye colour to the hero (who had to admit that his own experience agreed that blue eyed people were liars). (You cannot trust people with blue eyes, not any damn shade, I tell you.)

Edited at 2015-02-17 01:49 pm (UTC)
evelyn_b
Feb. 17th, 2015 07:42 pm (UTC)
The most indefatigable and ruthless liar I have ever met had beautiful, deep, extremely sincere-looking brown eyes. You could practically see the clear rays of guilelessness beaming out of them.

If Grant is a minor character in most of his books, that would be an interesting move. I guess I'll have to see for myself! Eye color does not come into The Daughter of Time, but Grant does remark that "nearly all out-size women are sexually cold." You can ask any doctor!
lost_spook
Feb. 17th, 2015 07:54 pm (UTC)
Re. the research thing; I know what you mean. I keep reading anything where someone recounts researching their family history, no matter how rubbish, because it is an awesome thing people in books should do more of - getting excited by odd historical research, I mean.

"nearly all out-size women are sexually cold." You can ask any doctor!

:lol: He really really believes it. And you may be finding Alleyn a bit too elusive but at least he doesn't believe you can tell a murderer from the colour of their eyes/shape of their head, I'll say that much for him. :-)
evelyn_b
Feb. 18th, 2015 03:54 pm (UTC)
The thing I like about Alleyn is his conscientiousness about not jumping to conclusions too quickly. In the first Alleyn book I read, Dyed in the Wool, a character challenged him to do some Sherlock Holmes-style deductive tricks, and Alleyn was just like, "I'm not going to do that; I don't have enough evidence to make any conclusion about you and it's not germane to the case." Even if he were temporarily seduced by the Gospel According to Headshape, he would have enough sense to stick any headshape-based hunches on the back burner while he cross-checked the rest of the evidence.
lost_spook
Feb. 18th, 2015 05:16 pm (UTC)
Even if he were temporarily seduced by the Gospel According to Headshape, he would have enough sense to stick any headshape-based hunches on the back burner while he cross-checked the rest of the evidence.

Aw, yes, indeed. And, besides, I don't think Fox would really go for it, either. :-)
( 11 comments — Leave a comment )

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