Inspector Grant is a recurring character in Ms. Tey's crime novels, and in this book he's completely laid up with a spine injury. It's actually both sad and amusing reading about his boredom and nastiness to hospital staff, Inspector Grant's got wit - and, plot point - a knack for faces. One afternoon he's visited by an actress-friend (eyebrow wiggle) who suggests he turn his mind to solving historical crimes. She brings him a collection of portraits of figures from history whose crimes were never solved, to decide by their face which one to pursue.
And there it is: Richard III, formerly Duke of Gloucester, formerly Richard York. A face which intrigues Grant because for all the crimes Richard was accused of, his face is oddly contemplative and kind. He sets to work, borrowing old school books from his nurses (which are rubbish at facts), and an historical novel called The Rose of Raby, Richard's mother. Marta, the actress, seeing that he is sufficiently entertained and hungry for more historical avenues, introduces Carradine, a young man studying at the British Museum, who offers to do research on Grant's hunches. Between them Grant and Carradine find that the most widely circulated and remembered historical accounts of the life of Richard III are based on lies. John Morton (an enemy of Richard for financial reasons), and St. Thomas More (who wrote the Tudor slant on history) painted the picture of a hunchbacked, conniving, evil spider who would stop at nothing to get the crown - not even at murdering his two young nephews. The facts don't add up, though, and through diligent research and postulation, Grant and Carradine could clear Richard's name forever.
Let me explain why I chose to read and review this here: I believe anything that illuminates a new perspective on a character in Shakespeare's plays should be examined. Richard III is one of Shakespeare's most reviled and beloved villains - he's so calculating, so malicious, so deliciously bad. His play was also written during the reign of a Tudor monarch, a mere hundred years after the events at Bosworth Field with More's version being the accepted one. Popular memory under the Tudors already had Richard as the villain, and the survival of Shakespeare's play ensured that that is the Richard we'd know.
How do we remember history? Is it the stories we're told, or the facts we can plainly see? In exploring how these questions can be answered, Grant recalls an incident at Tonypandy:
"The point is that every single man who was there knows that the story is non-sense, and yet it has never been contradicted. It will never be overtaken now. It is a completely untrue story grown to legend while the men who knew it to be untrue looked on and said nothing."
He is a different man than the "sainted More" describes. One who forgave too often, quelled discord, quietly considered situations, and above all protected his family. Yes, though the book is filled with research and quotes from other books (lifted! I ask you!), if you're looking for an easy read compiling 400 years of research on the subject, here 'tis.
Just, also think about how you're remembering your history. Are we to believe the stories we are told? Or the facts in front of us?
- Paperback: 206 pages
- Publisher: Scribner; 1ST edition (November 29, 1995)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0684803860
- ISBN-13: 978-0684803869