The Last Hours…
For most, the Black Death is the end. For a brave few, it heralds a new beginning.
When the Black Death enters England through the port of Melcombe in Dorseteshire in June 1348, no one knows what manner of sickness it is or how it spreads and kills so quickly. The Church cites God as the cause, and religious fear grips the people as they come to believe that the plague is a punishment for wickedness.
But Lady Anne of Develish has her own ideas. Educated by nuns, Anne is a rarity among women, being both literate and knowledgeable. With her brutal husband absent from Develish when news of this pestilence reaches her, she takes the decision to look for more sensible ways to protect her people than daily confessions of sin. Well-versed in the importance of isolating the sick from the well, she withdraws her people inside the moat that surrounds her manor house and refuses entry even to her husband.
She makes an enemy of her daughter and her husband’s steward by doing so, but her resolve is strengthened by the support of her leading serfs … until food stocks run low and the nerves of all are tested by continued confinement and ignorance of what is happening in the world outside. The people of Develish are alive. But for how long? And what will they discover when the time comes for them to cross the moat?
Compelling and suspenseful, The Last Hours is a riveting tale of human ingenuity and endurance against the worst pandemic known to history. In Lady Anne of Develish – leader, saviour, heretic – Walters has created her most memorable heroine to date.
My reading tastes for historical fiction don’t usually extend as far back into history as 1348. I tend to stick with the more modern historical events and I will freely admit that I was quite hesitant about diving into this novel, fully expecting a whole lot of ‘ye olde’ speak and complicated titles.
How wrong can one person be?!
The Last Hours is a truly extraordinary novel. There is no ‘ye olde’ speak, yet the story still rings true with historical authenticity. It’s a true testament to Minette’s skill as a writer, to be able to suffuse a story with such a richly authentic atmosphere yet still maintain an accessibility that would rival a contemporary novel. The characterisation is superb, the drama intense, and the plot twists just keep on coming. I am quite excited about a follow up novel and hope it’s as thick as this one, because seriously, I could have just kept on reading for another 550 pages.
My previous knowledge on serfdom was sketchy at best, so I found exploring this societal system entirely fascinating. What a dreadfully suppressed and often depraved existence this was, not only for serfs. The ‘ruling’ class were not all that much better, unless you were the Lord of the Manor. Chattel wives were regarded no higher than serfs and slaves, women of all classes were subjected to all manner of indignities and had no rights whatsoever, frequently regarded with insignificance and disdain. The church was the be all and end all, distorting the truth about anything and everything and holding the lives (and souls) of its parishioners in the palm of its corrupt and indecent hand. Goodness, what a terrible place and era to have been alive in. It truly beggars belief. And the poor sanitation; no wonder they were all dropping like flies, it was truly disgusting.
Minette has done a stellar job at taking this world, crafting some excellent characters, and shaping it into a compelling drama that literally keeps you up late turning the pages long into the midnight hour. I loved this novel, from the first page through to the last, and will recommend it to all as well as gifting it to a few of my favourites this Christmas. Don’t be put off by the sheer size and number of pages; instead, rejoice there are so many because you will not want this story to end.
Thanks is extended to Allen & Unwin for providing me with a copy of The Last Hours for review.
Minette Walters is one of the world’s best-selling crime writers. She is the author of twelve novels, winning the CWA John Creasey Award for The Ice House, the Edgar Allan Poe Award in America for The Sculptress and two CWA Gold Daggers for The Scold’s Bridle and Fox Evil. The Last Hours marks an exciting new direction for Minette. She lives in Dorsett.