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BOOK REVIEW: The Last Hours by Minette Walters

Friday, January 05, 2018



The Blurb (from Goodreads):


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 Thoughts:

Minette Walters is best known for her contemporary psychological thrillers (which I must read again!) However, it has been ten years since her last book and now she has released a doorstopper of a novel set during the time of the Black Death in England.

The accepted wisdom is that a writer must continue to churn out books as much like their previous books as possible, but I think this leads to a steady decline in the quality of the writing. A creative artist must be constantly challenging themselves, trying new things, following new interests. And I love writers to break rules and subvert expectations. So the news that Minette Walters had written a historical novel filled me with joy. I ordered it straightaway, and plunged into it with delight.

Set in Dorset in 1348, the book begins when news begins to spread of a terrible new disease that strikes down quickly and spreads just as fast. Widowed by the death of her husband, Lady Anne tries to save her people by isolating them. However, she cannot banish lust, jealousy, and hatred, all of which lead to a tragic death within the walls of her castle.

The story swings along with great aplomb, filled with suspense, drama, murder and surprise. I particularly loved the character of Lady Anne, who is plain but intelligent and kind-hearted, and who has her own secrets. Although it's a massive book at 550 pages, the pace never flags …. At least not until the very last scene, in which Minette Walters’ control over her story falters. It turns out that there is to be a sequel, where the story shall be continued, and so the book ends on a cliffhanger. I would have so much rather have had a good strong resolution, with just a hint that there was still drama and darkness to come, but it’s just one quibble in a book which I enjoyed immensely. And I’ll be buying the sequel when it comes out, never fear!

Another great book about the plague, Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks, made my 2013 list of Favourite Australian Authors.

Please leave a comment and let me know what you think.

BOOK LIST: Books Read in February 2014

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The last few months have been insanely busy for me, with all sorts of deadlines whizzing past my ears as a consequence of having four books with three different publishers coming out this year, as well as a hectic touring schedule. As a result, my usual rate of reading has been much slowed as I spent most evenings writing instead. Nonetheless,  I managed quite a few books in February - I hope some of these entice you to read them too. 


A Game of Thrones: A Song of Fire & Ice – George R. R. Martin
I feel as if I must be the last person in the world to read A Game of Thrones. And I love fantasy fiction! I think I decided some years ago to wait till the whole series was out before I began to read it … but of course, it still isn’t finished. 
So I decided I really should be more in step with my times and so I limbered up my arm muscles and picked up the first book in the series.
What did I think? I really enjoyed it. The world building is unusually deep and vivid, and the story is full of surprises. Although it’s a big book, with a lot of characters, I didn’t feel the pace dragged. I loved the dire-wolves and the child protagonists, and I loved the political intrigue. I’ll go on and read Book 2, and I may even watch the TV series …


A Dreadful Murder – Minette Walters 
This book is published as a ‘Quick Read’, which describes it very well. The book is only 122 pages long and that’s with nice, big font size. It really is a novella, but it was perfect size to be read in a single setting which was something I wanted after plowing through A Game of Thrones night after night. 
The book is based on the true story of the murder of Caroline Luard, which took place in Kent in August 1908. Her body was found dead in broad daylight in the grounds of the large country estate in which she lived with her husband. It does not take long for the village to begin accusing her husband of the murder and eventually he committed suicide, unable to live under the cloud of suspicion. 
Minette Walters retells the story in simple and concise language, postulating another theory as to the identity of the murderer.  Her conclusions feel right to me, and I can’t help feeling sorry for Mr Luard. 


Revealed – Kate Noble
I really enjoyed Let it Be Me, a fresh and sparkling Regency romance by Kate Noble, and so thought I’d try another by the same author. Revealed is not quite as wonderful as Let it Be Me, but it was amusing and charming and the romance was really quite sweet. I was not overly fond of the heroine when the book began because she was so perfect – beautiful, rich, with exquisite taste – blah, blah, blah. But she did grow new depths as the story continued and became much less of a spoiled princess. And I loved the spy sub-plot. I always think a romance is improved with a little murder, mayhem, or intrigue thrown into the mix.
  

Night – Elie Wiesel
This slender book is Elie Wiesel's harrowing account of his teenage years, spent in Auschwitz. It is told very simply and bleakly, without much description or dialogue, as if spoken to someone quietly listening. This makes it feel very pure and real, though sometimes the effect is one of emotional numbness which is, in its way, even more heart-wrenching. Wiesel describes the taking away of his mother and little sister to the gas chambers, his struggle to survive and to look after his father, and his own loss of faith in God and humanity with the same clear and unfettered honesty. I ended the book with such a lump in my throat I could scarcely draw a breath. A profoundly moving book, and one that everyone should read. My edition came with Wiesel’s acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize:  

"And that is why I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men or women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must - at that moment - become the center of universe."


It made me want to speak out for all the injustices I see in the world and ashamed of myself for not doing so. 


The Ocean At the End of the Lane – Neil Gaiman
I have never really got the Neil-Gaiman-as-literary-god thing. I’ve read quite a lot of his books and enjoyed them all, particularly Stardust. I really liked The Graveyard Book too, and thought it had some lovely writing in it. But he didn’t give me goosebumps. He didn’t make me prickle all over with awe and amazement. He didn’t bring that lump into my throat and that prickle of tears into my eyes, which is how I always know if a book is truly great. 
Well, now he has. The Ocean At the End of the Lane is a truly great book. It’s full of Big Ideas, yet is still a compulsively readable story. In a way, it’s very hard to categorise. It’s neither a book for adults or for children, but a book that can be read by both. In fact, I can see it being one of those touchstone books, that a child reads and loves, and returns to again and again as an adult and finding ever new things in it. Yet it is such a slim book. Like the pond at the end of the lane, that is really an ocean that contains within it the whole universe, this book is brimming over mystery, magic, and wisdom. I am awed and amazed, and so, so jealous of Neil Gaiman’s talent. This is a book I wish I could write. 


A Wrinkle in Time – Madeleine L’ Engle 
Reading Nail Gaiman’s utterly brilliant novel The Ocean At the End of the Lane reminded me of a book I had loved as a teenager but had not read again in years - A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Éngle. So I dug out my tattered old paperback (this is why I never get rid of books – so I can put my hand on a book whenever I want it) and read it again for the first time in many years. First published in 1962, A Wrinkle in Time is older than I am but it has survived the years remarkably well. It too is a novel full of Big Ideas expressed through a very readable story, with a beguiling mixture of humour and horror, philosophy and fantasy. It is a very different book from Neil Gaiman’s but both have a trio of three women who seem very ordinary on the outside but are indeed both mysterious and powerful. I’m really glad I read it again and I have gone and put both books on my teenage son’s bedside table. 

Here's the list of Books Read in January

PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT - I LOVE TO KNOW WHAT YOU THINK!


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