Royalty Rules Challenge #1
Scotland Yard detective Alan Grant fell through a trapdoor while chasing a suspect. Now the only thing he’s pursuing is something to counteract the boredom of being trapped in a hospital bed at the mercy of the nurses. His friend Marta comes to the rescue with the suggestion that he find a historical mystery to look into - did the Dauphin escape the guillotine? Was Amy Robsart murdered? - and, knowing Grant’s fascination with faces, brings along a selection of portrait prints to help him decide. None of the proffered puzzles captures his attention, but one face does: That of Richard III.
Marta had intended that Grant consider investigating whether Perkin Warbeck was, as he claimed, one of the Princes in the Tower - the two boys murdered by their usurping, hunchbacked uncle. Instead he begins researching Richard himself. Aided by an American historian (also provided by Marta), Grant sifts through the accounts of Richard’s reign. He soon realises that there is another mystery attached to Richard - that of whether he ordered the deaths of his nephews at all.
Once upon a time, I believed. I accepted without question what history and the encyclopaedia said: That Richard III was a cruel man who had two children killed that he might be king. When the first faint doubts appeared, I’m not sure. Perhaps when we read Richard III in Year 10 English, and it occurred to me that of course Shakespeare’s Richard was a monster; he was, after all, writing in the reign of Henry Tudor’s granddaughter at a time when theatres needed royal approval. Sometime later, I read that far from being hunchbacked, he was actually accounted good-looking. And everything I’ve read about Richard since has only served to improve my opinion of him. Yes, I was willing to be persuaded; but I think even someone convinced of his villainy would be given a lot to think about while reading this book.
As literature, it’s possessed of a noticeable shortcoming; the characters who come and go from Grant’s room (staff and visitors alike) are plainly there for the purpose of presenting the arguments for and against Richard, and voicing the popular legends. It’s potentially controversial history converted to a more palatable form, fiction. (And it reminded me of Colin Dexter’s The Wench is Dead, in which Morse solves a - fictional - nineteenth-century mystery while hospitalised.) In spite of its transparency, it’s still an engrossing read, such is the fascination of the information it presents. Grant’s emerging belief in Richard’s innocence is given weight by the discussion of other famous (non)incidents, like the Boston Massacre - in which the British troops were provoked and the dead could be counted on one hand. It’s a touch frightening to think how easily history can be completely rewritten without anyone saying a word, as well as a valuable reminder to think about ‘facts’, instead of just swallowing them. Some of the evidence in Richard’s favour is so obvious I can’t believe I hadn’t noticed it myself; some was an education. By the time it was all laid out, I couldn’t see how Richard could possibly be guilty - unless possessed of far less by way of brains than history would suggest.
As for Grant’s identification of the real villain ... that, I’m not so sure about. There’s no shortage of other suspects; and no real proof against the one Grant settles on. To find a truly convincing case against any one of them would likely take someone with degrees in history and psychology, and unfettered access to the original records - and probably the miraculous discovery of some long-lost documents, too.
And although I have none of those things ... if I were in London, I’d be sorely tempted to rush out to the British Library and begin the search myself.