The Last Hours by Minette Walters
|The Last Hours by Minette Walters|
|Category: Historical Fiction|
|Reviewer: Sue Magee|
|Summary: A giant of the crime genre turns her hand to historical fiction and proves that brilliant writing will shine whatever the setting. Highly recommended.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 560||Date: November 2017|
|Publisher: Allen & Unwin|
|External links: Author's website|
In June 1348 the Black Death came into the country through the port of Melcombe in Dorset. Ignorant of many rules of hygiene which we'd find basic nearly seven hundred years later, the disease rages through the country. On the estate of Develish, Lady Anne Develish took control of the future of the people who lived in the demesne after her husband had ridden off to try and secure a marriage for his daughter. Two hundred bonded serfs lived on the estate and when Lady Anne realised the virulence of the plague she ordered that the estate refuse entry to anyone, including her husband and his entourage, for fear that they would bring the disease to her people.
Lady Anne was just fourteen when she came to Develish, the chattel wife of a brutal man, but Lady Anne won the love and respect of most people on the estate. In the beginning they might have resented her insistence on some newfangled ideas such as latrines, but gradually they'd come to realise that they were all healthier for the changes that had been made and their crops were more abundant than those of the neighbouring estates. Everyone benefitted. There was some muttering when she chose a bastard slave, Thaddeus Thurkell, to act as her steward, but most people recognised that the quarantining of Develish had kept the estate healthy.
But, having hundreds of people cooped up in a relatively small area was always going to produce tensions. Ways need to be found to keep everyone gainfully occupied and that included Lady Eleanor Develish who took after her father in her attitudes and sense of entitlement. She was also getting just too familiar with some of the young serfs, whilst demonstrating just how much she despised them. Then there's the problem of food: how long can they make what they have last? Will anyone be brave enough to leave Develish in search of more food and what might they encounter? Is the pestilence still around?
I don't normally read historical fiction, but Minette Walters is one of the giants of the crime genre and I was fascinated to see how she was transport her skills to a new genre. The answer was simple: good writing shines in any genre and the ability to tell a good story is never restricted. I know that it's a cliché to say that I couldn't put the book down, but I was a hundred pages in before I even bothered to look up from the page - and that was only to work out what I didn't need to do so that I could continue reading.
You can't not love Lady Anne, or fail to admire Thaddeus Thurkell. I did think that Lady Eleanor Develish might descend into caricature as redeeming features are few and far between, but Walter pitches it just right and produces a twist which might just make you think again. The story's obviously been exceptionally well researched, particularly with regard to the status of women, the influence of the church and the lack of knowledge about sickness. The knowledge is worn lightly - you never feel that you're being lectured.
There is one caveat though: although most plot lines are satisfactorily tied up there are a few which dangle in the wind. The book doesn't quite end on a cliffhanger but the final words are To be continued... All I can say is that it had better be quick!
I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.
For a non-fiction look at the effects of the Black Death we can recommend The Scourging Angel: The Black Death in the British Isles by Benedict Gummer. If you'd like to try some of Minette Walters' crime writing we enjoyed The Cellar.
You could get a free audio download of The Last Hours by Minette Walters with a 30-day Audible free trial at Amazon.co.uk.
You can read more book reviews or buy The Last Hours by Minette Walters at Amazon.co.uk.
You can read more book reviews or buy The Last Hours by Minette Walters at Amazon.com.
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