The Last Hours: Book summary and reviews of The Last Hours by Minette Walters

The Last Hours

by Minette Walters

The Last Hours by Minette Walters X
The Last Hours by Minette Walters
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Book Summary

Compelling and suspenseful, The Last Hours is a riveting tale of human ingenuity and endurance set against the worst pandemic in history. In Lady Anne of Develish - leader, savior, heretic - Walters has created her most memorable heroine to date.

When the Black Death enters England through the port in Dorsetshire 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 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 the manor when news of this pestilence reaches her, she looks for more sensible ways to protect her people than daily confessions of sin. She decides to bring her serfs inside the safety of the moat that surrounds her manor house, then refuses entry to anyone else, even her husband.

Lady Anne 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. 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 again?

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Starred Review. Deeply researched and engrossing, this masterful series opener leaves readers hanging - Rats! - so they'll eagerly await the sequel." - Kirkus

"Thanks to the characters' early withdrawal to inside the manor walls, the plague itself mostly takes its toll offstage, rendering the story much less exciting, and an abrupt cliff-hanger ending after more than 500 pages is more frustrating than suspenseful." - Library Journal

"Walters's crime novels are admired for their claustrophobic atmosphere and precision-engineered suspense. With The Last Hours, she has swapped that taut plotting for a more expansive structure and ambitiously broad canvas. Whether it will win over her previous fans remains to be seen but, as the inhabitants of Develish discover, striking out for the unknown is a worthwhile adventure, whatever the outcome." - The Guardian (UK)

"The book has none of the intellectual weight, nor brilliance and subtlety, of Britain's two greatest contemporary historical novelists, Hilary Mantel and Dorothy Dunnett?, but it remains a gripping read. Walters uses this often grisly tale to explore questions of class relations, gender relations, and the societal aftermath of the Norman conquest." - Sydney Morning Herald (Australia)

This information about The Last Hours was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's membership magazine, and in our weekly "Publishing This Week" newsletter. Publication information is for the USA, and (unless stated otherwise) represents the first print edition. The reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author and feel that they do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, send us a message with the mainstream reviews that you would like to see added.

Any "Author Information" displayed below reflects the author's biography at the time this particular book was published.

Reader Reviews

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Cloggie Downunder

A brilliant read.
The Last Hours is the eighteenth novel by British author, Minette Walters, and is a departure from her usual genre of crime/psychological thriller: this one is historical fiction. It’s June 1348, and the Plague has just arrived in England. The population is completely unprepared for the devastation this disease will wreak, but a scant few demesnes are better equipped to handle it than most. A Saxon, Lady Anne of Develish in Dorsetshire was raised by nuns; she has been quietly running the demesne in an efficient and compassionate way underneath the radar of her cruel Norman husband.

Sir Richard of Develish departs for another demesne to set up his spoilt fourteen-year-old daughter in an advantageous marriage but Gyles Startout, Anne’s informant in Richard’s retinue, soon realises there is a sickness afflicting the nearby village. Potent and virulent, it appears to be something that kills quickly with few survivors. By the time Sir Richard decides to return to Develish, its already too late for many of his party.

In response to an announcement from the Bishop of Sarum regarding “A Black Death”, Anne takes the unconventional step of bringing the demesne’s bondsmen to live on the land contained within the moat that Sir Richard had, in his vanity, built as a folly. Her plan to isolate them from the rest of the population is a revolutionary measure that proves to be the salvation of Develish and its serfs.

On her husband’s return, she insists on his party being quarantined, a move that angers young Lady Eleanor and also attracts censure from Hugh de Courtesmain, Sir Richard’s Norman steward. As does her later appointment of a serf as Steward. Thus they survive, free of the pestilence, for some months, but how long will they last on the food they have stored? And how will they avoid attack from raiding parties? Then a teenaged boy dies, and Anne’s steward takes drastic action.

Walters gives the reader a fascinating look into the mid-fourteenth Century, bringing history to life in what is obviously the product of extensive research. Her characters are complex, human and flawed. They have secrets and doubts and weaknesses and their actions result in plenty of intrigue. Walters explores not just the ordeal of surviving the plague, but also, surviving in a world drastically changed, with a population so severely depleted that the very dynamic between serf and master is altered.

While is does not exactly end in a cliff-hanger, there are several matters left unresolved by the final twists, and the last pages reveal that there will be a sequel, which is unfortunately not slated for publication until October 2018, so readers have to wait a year to learn the further fates of Anne and Gyles and Thaddeus and Isabella. Walters has proven without any shadow of doubt that she has much more than one string to her bow. A brilliant read.

Mandy

The Last Hours
This book is ok but I don't find it riveting. The plot is not convincing enough. Also the constant negativity about all things religious does not reflect the piety and society of the time. I have read many historical novels which are much better.

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Author Information

Minette Walters Author Biography

Vicky Fry

Minette Walters is one of the world's bestselling crime writers and has sold over twenty-five million copies of her books worldwide. She has won the CWA John Creasey Award, the Edgar Allan Poe Award, and two CWA Gold Daggers. The Swift and the Harrier is her third historical novel. She lives in Dorset with her husband.

Author Interview
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