Review published on December 6, 2017.
I know Minette Walters as a writer of dark psychological crime novels so was expecting good storytelling and clever handling of pace and plot, but I wasn’t sure whether she would succeed in evoking the atmosphere of 14th century England. On the whole I think she is successful – I did feel transported to the time when the Black Death was sweeping through England and it does give an insight into the horrors of the plague and the terror felt by all. The novel also cleverly conveys how the Black Death made people start to question the social order and the power of the Church.
There are some interesting and complex characters. Lady Anne, who takes control of the demesne and isolates the inhabitants, stands out, as does Thaddeus, a serf who Lady Anne has taught and protected. The “bad” characters however are rather too evil with no redeeming features. The plotting is quite tight for a longish book of over 500 pages but I did find it somewhat repetitive in places. I did enjoy the part where Thaddeus takes five boys away from the demesne to find food. At first they are quarrelsome but gradually learn to co-operate and, as they see the outside world for the first time, start to wake up to ideas of social injustice and to question the absolute power of God.
I would certainly recommend this as a book group choice. It is also a good personal read, giving a sweeping and fascinating account of a terrible and terrifying period of history.
Berwyn Peet 4/4
The Last Hours by Minette Walters
Allen & Unwin 9781760632137 hbk Nov 2017
SECOND OPINION: Cousins by Salley Vickers