I wonder how much of the widespread affection shown towards Richard III during the recent yo-yoing of his earthly remains was due to Josephine Tey' s enduringly popular mystery novel The Daughter of Time (1951).
This is the book in which Tey' s regular sleuth Inspector Alan Grant, stuck in hospital with a broken leg, starts to read about Richard III and decides to prove that he was innocent of the murder of the Princes in the Tower. In one sense the most static crime novel imaginable, it is also one of the most riveting.
At the time of Richard III's reburial last year, one wiseacre declared on the radio that Tey should not be acclaimed for originality as her thesis had been well known to historians, thereby showing he had missed the point of the book completely.
At the end of the novel, Grant discovers that many historians have reached the same conclusions he has, but their discoveries have failed to enter the public consciousness and overturn the image of the monstrous hunchback that was fabricated by Tudor propagandists.
Whether you believe Tey' s theory or not, it is a truly original philosophical novel about the fragility of truth. The irony is that a number of unshiftable misrepresentations have taken root concerning Tey herself since her death in 1952.
In response, the playwright and author Jennifer Morag Henderson has taken on the Alan Grant mythbuster role and written a full-length biography, the first of Tey to appear. Tey was an extremely private woman who probably would have balked at the idea but, as Henderson puts it, her "desire for privacy didn't translate into a silence or lack of knowledge about her, it translated over the years into a false picture that bore little relation to the reality of her life".
The woman we know as Josephine Tey was born Elizabeth Mackintosh in Inverness in 1896, the daughter of a fruiterer. She was most famous in her lifetime for plays written in the Thirties under the pseudonym Gordon Daviot, and most of the mysteries she published as Josephine Tey were not written until after the Second World War.
She wrote only eight crime novels, but I would rank Miss Pym Disposes (1946), The Franchise Affair (1948) and Brat Farrar (1949) with The Daughter of Time as masterpieces of British crime fiction.
Henderson thinks that her last, posthumously published mystery, The Singing Sands, is her best; reading it on her recommendation, I think she might be on to something.
Mackintosh/Daviot/ Tey became a much-loved part of a wide circle of glamorous, raffish theatre folk including John Gielgud, Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies and Dodie Smith, who all referred to her as "Gordon", but her London sprees were sporadic: she spent most of her time in the family home in Inverness, writing and keeping house for her widowed father, who lived until 1950.
After his death there was no time to start a new life; she died of liver cancer in February 1952, aged 55. Many critical studies of Tey assert that she was pathologically shy, that she felt uncomfortable in Scotland and took no part in Scottish cultural life and that she wrote nothing during the Second World War owing to depression.
Henderson' s conscientious ferreting-out of documents and plays written under previously unknown pseudonyms gives the lie to all of these claims. You wouldn't know it from reading this book, but for the past few years Nicola Upson has published a number of historical crime novels featuring Mackintosh/ Tey as a detective, and has portrayed her as a lesbian.
Henderson thinks Tey was straight, and speculates that she was in love with Hugh McIntosh, a poet who died aged 33 of tuberculosis in 1927; his verses are quoted by Tey' s character Alan Grant.
The jury must remain out, but this book reminds us that Upson's reimagining of her life is not the only possible reading. Upson has said that she wrote her novels because there was not enough material available about Tey' s life to make up a biography.
Henderson' s book is sensible and entertaining, but often frustrating. Inevitably it is full of guesswork, and the occasional sparkling quotations from Tey' s letters make the reader long to hear more of her voice.
There is a lot of extraneous information, too. Everything pertinent could have been included in a book half the length. Henderson is at her best when analysing Tey' s novels, and especially when showing how grown-up they are compared with the work of the other Golden Age writers.
She points out that Tey was in agreement with Dorothy L Sayers's view that marriage was pointless unless it was to an exceptional person, but whereas Sayers created the toogood-to-be-true Lord Peter Wimsey for her heroine to marry, Tey' s characters learn how to be happily single.
This is the image of Josephine Tey with which Henderson leaves us: not a closeted introvert forever scuttling back to Inverness out of shyness, but a strong woman who put her duty to her family and her work before everything else, because that was how she chose to live her life.
441pp, Sandstone Press, £19.99, Ebook £6.47