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The Last Hours Paperback – 2 Nov 2017
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Wonderful and sweeping, with a fabulous sense of place and history * Kate Mosse on The Last Hours * An enthralling account of a calamitous time, and above all a wonderful testimony to the strength of the human spirit. I was caught from the first page. -- Julian Fellowes on The Last Hours A vividly-wrought and powerful story. With The Last Hours, Minette Walters has brought her impressive skill as a writer of psychological crime to create a dark and gripping depiction of Medieval England in the jaws of the Black Death. -- Elizabeth Fremantle on The Last Hours A staggeringly talented writer. * Guardian * A seductive writer with an imagination that makes her dangerous to know * Sunday Express * Minette Walters is a master at building engrossing tales around a single, life-shattering event. * Washington Post * Atmosphere, imagination and narrative power of which few other writers are capable * The Times *
From the Inside Flap
June, 1348: the Black Death enters England through the port of Melcombe in the county of Dorsetshire. Unprepared for the virulence of the disease, and the speed with which it spreads, the people of the county start to die in their thousands.
In the estate of Develish, Lady Anne takes control of her people's future - including the lives of two hundred bonded serfs. Strong, compassionate and resourceful, Lady Anne chooses a bastard slave, Thaddeus Thurkell, to act as her steward. Together, they decide to quarantine Develish by bringing the serfs inside the walls. With this sudden overturning of the accepted social order, where serfs exist only to serve their lords, conflicts soon arise. Ignorant of what is happening in the world outside, they wrestle with themselves, with God and with the terrible uncertainty of their futures.
Lady Anne's people fear starvation but they fear the pestilence more. Who amongst them has the courage to leave the security of the walls?
And how safe is anyone in Develish when a dreadful event threatens the uneasy status quo..?
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There are echoes of the community in Derbyshire which cut itself off in an attempt to avoid the Black Death. Lady Anne, well educated and visionary, decides to isolate her small estate when she hears that the illness is incurable, highly contagious and very painful. There are some graphic descriptions of those affected and how they spend their last hours. It's interesting to read a story depicting a powerful woman; it was unusual for a female to be well read and educated and the same is not true of her vacuous daughter and boorish husband. There are those for and against her and this story is rich in conflict, secrets and connivance. Class differences are explored convincingly and Walters captures nuances of language and behaviours to perfection. And best of all, there's to be a sequel, due to be published late in 2018.
In summary, I really enjoyed this book. It's convincing and well written and my thanks to the publisher for an early review copy via Netgalley.
It's 1348: the Black Death has landed in Dorset and is about to sweep through the county at breakneck speed. After the death of her husband, Lady Anne of Develish must bar the doors of the manor house and look to her people within, while her steward Thaddeus Thurkell takes a handful of young men to scavenge for supplies and news.
I was intrigued to try this author's take on the historical saga, having enjoyed her psychological murder mysteries back in the day. She's lived in Dorset for many years, and it must have seemed an interesting project. But sadly, I didn't find it an easy read: having set up a good situation, she forgets about a decent plot, and while you're waiting for something to happen it all gets a bit repetitive. Somehow it just never felt like a believable medieval world full of real people. Historical details are scarce, and every character is paper-thin, especially saintly heroine Lady Anne, whose treatment of her serfs is surely totally anachronistic, and Thaddeus is a manly but very dull hero. Evil daughter Eleanor is never allowed to do anything but storm and sulk (the abuse sub-plot felt like a bolt-on) and it's hard to tell the villagers apart.
If you can put up with Ken Follett's verbosity, his World Without End paints a much more convincing picture of the effects of the Black Death on people you actually care about. I'm not sure I want to carry on with this story, but it opens well, it has its moments, and I made it to the end, so three stars.
Lady Anne has fostered good relationships with her serfs and has promoted a slave, Thaddeus Turkell to the important post of steward: she is also keeping a journal to chart events and actions in the event that the community does not survive. This self-imposed isolation has impacts on the social structure and on the expectations of people who suddenly have the chance to remake their own lives: Lady Anne is challenged in many ways as a result, not least in the person of her haughty daughter, Eleanor.
This is a clever story, written by an expert novelist, which tells of interesting people in challenging times, overlaid with the constraints and unjust nature of feudal life, all of which ring true and encourage further reading of this author's work.
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