The Daughter of Time Rothdas book review RSS
2.0 Stars

All Dragoons are Bastards

According to the NYTimes, this is one of the best mystery novels of all times. The NYTimes is incorrect. This book was written in 1950 by an English lady, and while the writing is often skillful and occasionally enjoyable the larger effect is ruined by the somewhat arbitrary story telling and the author's right-wing politics. The basic plot is that a policeman is laid up with a back injury, and with the help of his friends he does historical research into the murders supposedly perpetrated by Richard III. This diverges from the usual formula for mysteries (events happen, are actively investigated & chased and decoded), and instead what you get is a more straightforward affair where the characters come out with one historical account after another that mostly supports the case they are making. So it's not really that earlier information is investigated or recontextualised in any clever way, instead the logic & textual trail mostly just leads them where they want to go. This runs into a problem that the crew of Buffy talked about in their commentary on the show, namely that many of their plot points come up during investigations in the library, and so how do you make that interesting to the viewer? Do you have yet another scene of two talking heads, or yet another scene where everyone is sitting together around a table in the library? The Buffy writers made a continual effort to keep these scenes interesting. The author here runs into the same problem but does not tackle it with as much success. There are numerous mini-scenes where the author tries to add some juice in between the text-dumps, but these scenes often come across as forced and boring and self-congratulatory. You can quickly see the scaffolding behind the story.

There are other issues; my own view of the times and location is owned by Mantel's Wolf Hall series, which seems more astute and enjoyable and colorful. It also makes the central mystery of this book (why were these murders ascribed to Richard III?) very simple (because Richard III's family was no longer in power, and because one of the new ruling nobles could have you whipped to death if you disagreed with their version of history). It's not a complicated equation, but this book takes 200 pages to lay it out for us. Another problem is that this book tries to take 1950's English mores, and apply them to 1590's English times. I'm not having it. Another problem is at such a historical distance, it seems a fool's errand to try and make really fine-grained judgments about people and their character, and I don't have a ton of patience for books that do this. If you want to use historical figures as templates with which to tell your own story, ok, but any effort to really nail down the nature of a person at such a remove seems impossible. One final and extremely minor quibble was that yes, the author gives the standard wisdom that faces have a bottomless & fascinating amount of detail and information in them, and yes as such portraiture is one of the most difficult and higher arts. I'd differ from her though in that she expects the face of a judge to be that of a good & humane person. Murdochian canon agrees with the first two points, but disagrees on the third, and would generally expect a judge to become self-important and narrow-minded through the habit of standing above others in judgment.