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This appears to be the author’s first foray into historical ficition having published a string of imaginative and gripping crime novels. Judging by the present book she should stick to modern crime fiction. The Last Hours seemed to last more hours than needed as it is padded out with lots of tedious conversations among cardboard characters who are either good or bad with little nuance in their behaviour. The cliches of a wicked lord of the manor raping local women, abused wives and servants and the lord’s daughter who is a caricature of vanity and viciousness made for a tedious listen.
Buried in all the descriptive stuff are two slow stories with the backdrop of the Black Death decimating the country and the endeavours of the lady of the manor of Devlish to ward off the infection by quarantining the inhabitants. One thread is who killed one of the serfs and the second concerns whether the man leading a band of serfs searching for food outside the quarantine area will succeed and return free of the disease.
To my considerable annoyance having listened to all the above in ponderous detail the book ends abruptly, without any resolution of the two stories with the weasel words ‘to be continued’. What a con!
The narrator does a plucky job of injecting some life into the characters particularly the daughter of the wicked lord who is made even more of an evil bitch by the way her words are voiced.
4 of 4 people found this review helpful
I loved the book but was dismayed to find it was just part 1 of 2.
I had never read or heard a book by Minette Walters, but a friend recommended this, and I thought I would give it a try. From the first minutes I felt I would not last the distance, with this dull depressing reader. I did finish listening to the whole book, but not with much pleasure. Much research of the Black Death period has doubtless gone into the book, but I found the story of the ruling family of Devlish, Dorset, unconvincing. Sir Richard was the arch-villain until his daughter Eleanor took over that role in the story, and I did not find either of them believable characters - they were purely negative creations, as if to set up Lady Anne as a wise woman with democratic and feminist leanings. They were all bad, and she was all good - and this is seldom the case with living human beings. The complications of the plot, later on, got beyond me. Moreover I was bored by the endless conversations - increasingly they all sounded the same. I recognize the skill of the writer in bringing so much material together in one book, however.
What could be more intriguing than a historical novel set in the time of the pestilence in medieval Britain, written by the “queen of the psychological thriller” whose chilling crime novels you’ve been enjoying for decades? Ever since reading Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks, I have been drawn to historical fiction set in that the era. As a health professional, the thought of a terrible pandemic that wiped out a third of the human population is utterly terrifying – as is the manner of death in which these people perished. But Walters does not dwell on the gory details, focusing instead on a small village that defied all odds by protecting themselves by isolation from the outside world.
In an interview regarding her book, the author states that she first became interested in the era of the “black death” when she found out about the discovery of a plague pit near her home in Dorset, close to where the plague was first brought into England. Inspired by accounts of great medieval women, who defied the female stereotype of the time, she created her main character, Lady Anne of Develish, who is a true pioneer of primary prevention strategies that save her people from the terrible fate that befell the region. Despite the general belief at the time that the plague was a punishment sent by God, Lady Anne, a wise if unconventional leader, suspects very early that the disease is carried in some way or another by sufferers and bad hygiene practices. With her boorish and ignorant husband having fallen victim to the disease, she manages to persuade all villagers to barricade themselves in the grounds of the large manor house to sit out the pandemic.
Walters expertise and skill shows through in the creation of her enigmatic characters, who literally leap from the pages of the book like real life people. With insight and subtle humour she describes the dynamics that not only drive society at the time, but also a small community confined in a small area and cut off from their surroundings in their efforts to survive. I was glad to see that she hasn’t totally abandoned crime fiction, introducing a murder mystery into her tale!
There is so much to love about this novel – from the interesting snippets of politics at the time, to the colourful group of characters, who each quickly wormed their way into my heart. A good novel also needs a villain, and there were a few on offer, eliciting the required sense of anger and injustice to make me emotionally involved. I think Walters must have had great fun creating Lady Eleanor – what a horrible little madam! I couldn’t help wondering who the character was inspired by (never upset a writer!). Her insights into medieval society were fascinating, especially the descriptions of the class system that governed society at the time, with serfs being bound to their liege lords with no freedom and few basic human rights of their own. It is one thing to learn these facts through textbooks, and another to see them incorporated into an engaging story that highlights the true impact of such a system on people’s lives. Interesting also was the place of religion in society and the power of the church by blaming all misfortune on people’s sins and God’s will, with salvation only to be found in abiding to the rules imposed by the church and the upper classes.
A couple of chapters from the end I knew two things: a) I didn’t want the book to finish; and b) I wouldn’t get the conclusion I so craved, as there weren’t enough pages left! And yes, the book did leave space for a sequel, which makes my heart sing in joy! I became so utterly absorbed in the medieval setting that it left me with a huge book hangover, and I really hope that Walters writes fast, because I want to keep reading! If you are planning on reading just one book of historical fiction this year, you cannot go wrong with this one. From the intriguing topic to the well-rounded characters, Walters re-creates the era with such skill that it captures the very essence of life in the 14th century. A wonderful tale of resilience and courage in the face of adversity – I can’t wait for the next installment.