Being stuck in a hospital bed, means a lot of staring at the ceiling. Entertainment comes in the forms of the books and the choices have not been very good for Alan Grant who is stuck in this predicament. In fact Alan Grant is an Inspector of Scotland Yard and is used to using his brain, reading faces and solving mysteries.
So a friend gives him some faces to read all with some sort of mystery attached. One of them happens to stick out from the rest and it is this face which becomes a fascination for Grant as he makes a judgement about the person by his face and then finds out that that person is in fact Richard III. And so begins a journey to find out the truth of the infamous king and whether in fact he was infamous for all the wrong reasons.
Grant, stuck in his hospital bed, relies on sources from the nurse’s old history book, to a copy of Thomas More’s account as well as evidence from well after Richard had perished at the Battle of Bosworth. Grant cannot understand how a man who looks like he does (in the picture) is one of histories most notorious men. This books makes you as a reader (and Grant as a character) rethink what you may have once been taught – Richard III had murdered his two nephews, no one knew how or where they were until some bones were discovered some two hundred years later.
Grant approaches this as he would if he was upright and out of hospital as a police case. Find out where people were at the time of the crime, how were they received and perceived by their peers. What evidence have you got and is it flawed in any way. Hearsay or fact. And so Grant changes his mind and learns a lot about the real man behind the picture that is propped up beside his hospital bed.
Tey’s book, makes you question what we know. Which is one of the reasons I enjoyed it so much. As someone who has a degree in history and had to read a lot about sometimes not much to gain one piece of information, it reinforced my belief that you should not always believe everything that you read. If you like a good mystery then you will like this book. If you like your history to be more questioning and enjoy it being fictionalised then you will like this book. If you like both these elements, I am sure you will really like the book.
Published in 1951, it is obviously a book of the time of its writing, much has been discussed about said Richard since so it should not be taken as any form of the ‘truth’, but to do so would go against the main character, Alan Grant’s own detective methods.
I came to this book knowing pretty much the same as Alan Grant. The Plantagenets were not a period that I covered at school , college or university. We seemed to start with the Tudors and I have always loved reading about them, so never went back. My knowledge of Richard III, is taken from the small snippets I must have picked up in the many books on Kings and Queens I was given whilst growing up – he had a hump, he was old, he was nasty and he killed The Princes in the Tower. In fact this tableaux of the Princes has always remained in my mind from visits to Madame Tussaud’s again whilst growing up.
As I got older, I know I questioned more and realised that perhaps that was not the truth, but I had never really gone much further. However, earlier on in the year I went to hear Alison Weir talk about her new book A Dangerous Inheritance and discovered that Richard III popped up in it, and with interest piqued I wanted to know more.
I knew of Tey’s book, but only now have just got round to reading it and I really did enjoy it. It took me back to my days of being a history student and how much I loved it (and still do). Not only that, I felt Tey commented on many points in the book which are quite as relevant today.
In reference to the books that Grant had been left to read, he was rather scathing of some of them, and did not get on with the others; you knew what you were going to be getting, the book was written to a formula
“Did no one, any more, no one in all this wide world, change their record now and then? Was everyone nowadays thirled to a formula? Authors today wrote so much to a pattern that their public expected it. The public talked about ‘a new Silas Weekley’ or ‘a new Lavinia Fitch’ exactly as they talked about ‘a new brick’ or ‘a new hairbrush’. They never said ‘a new book by whoever it might be. Their interest was not in the book but in its newness. They knew quite well what the book would be like.”
Who has not fallen for the ‘new Jack Reacher’ (Lee Child) the ‘new Harry Potter’ (J.K.Rowling), the ‘new Rizzoli and Isles’ (Tess Gerritsen) to name just a few and I know I have fallen for the ‘new’ something in the past and will no doubt in the future as well.
This period of history which ended the Plantagenets dynasty with Richard III was particularly confusing, and with so many Richards, Edwards and Catherine it is difficult to know whether you are coming or going. In reference to young John, Richard III’s illegitimate one, “He was the illegitimate only son of a King. Henry was the great-grandson of an illegitimate son of a younger son of a King.” I did have to stop a couple of times and regroup where I was in the story to make sure I had the right Edward.
“Every schoolboy turned over the final page of Richard III with relief, because now at last the Wars of the Roses were over and they could get on to the Tudors, who were dull but easy to follow.”
History books can appear dull and boring, and probably are to many a student and at times there were periods of history that we had to study that I found both of these. However, history with a personality, history with a story and a theory and a maybe it did not really happen like that makes it that more interesting.
“He turned the pages and marvelled how dull information is deprived of personality. The sorrows of humanity are no one’s sorrows, as newspaper readers long ago found out. A frisson of horror may go down one’s spine at wholesale destruction but one’s heart stays unmoved. [The nasty King who killed his nephews for example]A thousand people drowned in floods in China are news; a solitary child drowned in a pond is tragedy.”
I have always been interested in the way news is portrayed, both written and in its various visual forms nowadays. I question what they are telling us, or not as the case may be.
And so this book has told me lots, and no doubt told me not enough. I endeavour to read more about Richard III but also all those before the Tudors who have been my main focus when it has come to historical fiction. I have Philippa Gregory’s The Cousin’s War books on my shelf waiting to be read but might need a brain break from who is related to whom!
With the discovery of bones under a car park in Leicester in recent weeks we might be a bit nearer the truth of what happened to Richard III and perhaps Shakespeare (around in Tudor times when you think about it) unending portrayal of him as an old hunchback needs to be redressed. But whilst there is always history there will always be theories and long may they continue to inform and entertain in equal measure so we can all decide for ourselves. Perhaps we might even write a book about it, if the bones are found to be the great man himself?! Lying in a hospital bed…….