Unlike many people who will be picking up this book, I’ve not read any of Minette Walters’ thrillers, although I may have seen adaptations on the telly. Neither am I a fan of historical fiction of this period but I was drawn to The Last Hours by the plague aspect and the local connection.
In twelve days, the world had changed beyond all recognition.
The year is 1348 and a pestilence is spreading through Dorsetshire. In the demesne of Develish, the Lord is a horrid piece of work and his daughter isn’t much better. Lady Anne on the other hand is a thoroughly modern woman for the time, having learnt about quarantine from her time in a convent. Thaddeus is a bastard serf, despised by his family for falling far from the tree in both looks and temperament. He has learnt a great deal from Lady Anne, including how to read and write.
There is a bit of an infodump at the start to establish these characters and I felt they were a bit flat throughout, with the writing having a formal and impersonal feel to it. The daughter, Eleanor, was hard to take seriously. She hates her mother, and when her rotten father succumbs to the plague (huzzah) she is in complete denial about the dangers and the fact everyone needs to pull together to survive. She has repeated strops, she should deserve some sympathy by the end but she doesn’t seem to realise anything. The whole plot with her makes you think worse of Lady Anne too, maybe she is neglecting her daughter in favour of the serfs.
Lady Anne delivered her little barbs with reason and logic, and left Eleanor feeling cheated.
There’s not a huge amount about the plague really. Considering it is from the perspective of the time as well as a community that goes into quarantine this is understandable. It’s more like a survival story, a bit of historical post-apocalyptic fiction. However it generally was lacking tension, with small bursts of drama but I ended up skimming a lot in the final quarter.
What there is a lot of, however, is an explanation of the feudal system and how everyone had their place in society, and for most that place was a slave. Eleanor represents the old system but others in the demesne soon come to realise that titles mean very little in the face of such a plague. I did wonder if some of it was a little too modern. Lady Anne is quite socialist in her views compared to what would be normal at the time. I would be interested in reading how the plague changed social structures in England if this was the case.
It will be as if we never existed if our history cannot be read.
Religion plays a bit part in their lives but it is quite damning over the Church of the time. The priest of Develish is a bit of a stereotype; drunk, corrupt and pervy. I had trouble not imagining him as Father Jack. There is apparently a sequel and I don’t think I would have picked it up knowing that it wasn’t a standalone.
Warning, rape is talked about quite casually by some of the characters. It would be naive to think it didn’t happen during this period but it did make it a bit hard to empathise with them.
The Last Hours is published by Allen & Unwin and will be available in hardback and ebook editions from 2nd November 2017. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review via NetGalley.
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Disclosure: I received a copy of this book free of charge for review purposes only. Receipt of a book does not guarantee a review or endorsement. My reviews are my honest opinion and are not biased for the purpose of personal gain.
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