I understand that I am the last person in the Universe to read this book. Published in 1951 it tells the story of a fictional detective, Inspector Alan Grant. Inspector Grant is recovering in hospital from a fall down an open trap door believe it or not and, because he is bored, he begins to investigate the story of the murder of “The Princes in the Tower” – as you do. Thinking about it, it’s not a bad way to spend prolonged time in hospital. When my brother was in Bolton Royal, after being run over on a zebra crossing, it fell to me to play endless games of Connect Four to keep a bored schoolboy entertained. I have never really been able to look that game in the eye ever since.
Inspector Grant is a far deeper kind of person, fascinated by a portrait of Richard III and he thinks that he doesn’t look like the kind of person who would arrange for the murder of two young boys – which is a big assertion to make based on one portrait but that’s Inspector Grant for you. So he begins to investigate, undeterred by the fact that he is forced to lie down all the time and perhaps an even bigger obstacle, the fact that the crime happened almost 500 years earlier. I am not sure if this kind of detective story has been done before Josephine Tey wrote this book. I remember that Inspector Morse once solved a very old case from his hospital bed but that was fictional and therefore cheating a bit. I also remember, I think, a TV programme in the 70s where two detectives from Z cars pretended to look into old unsolved cases like Jack the Ripper and the Lindberg Killing. Was it Stratford Johns and Frank Windsor?
Anyway, this is a cracking book. You will not be surprised to learn that Grant is unimpressed by the accounts of the time that suggested that Richard was responsible and he comes up with someone else that he thinks is much more likely. (No spoilers but it is the usual person whose name always comes up as a suspect). I was glad that I do have a smattering of English history under my belt because there’s an awful lot of Henrys and their wives and offspring knocking about so you have to keep track. I enjoyed it and I agree with Alan that there is more to this than meets the eye.
Also interesting was the part played by Thomas More who wrote the definitive history of Richard III during the life of Henry VIII. For long complicated reasons of succession that I am too tired and undereducated to go into now, it went down very well with Henry VIII that Richard was portrayed as a wicked child murderer and a hunchback and, to no one’s surprise, More was happy to supply this narrative and we have more or less accepted that as the truth ever since.
I don’t think I would bet the farm on the possibility that Richard didn’t do it. Yet, in these times of fake news when we struggle to find the truth about politicians, leaders and plenty of others who want to be the boss of us, it is interesting to speculate on the narrative that we are being fed and who benefits from what we believe. We are assured that it shouldn’t make any difference what our leaders do in their private lives – so long as they get the trains running on time. I say – not so fast sweetheart! These are weird times. It falls to us to hold our leaders to account and, as much as we can, to make sure that we are hearing and judging by the truth even if that’s not always what people want us to hear.