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Customer reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
The Last Hours
Format: Kindle Edition|Change

TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 22 November 2017
This book ticked all the right boxes for historical fiction. It is based on a little known fact that some villages and hamlets did survive the impact of the 14th century outbreak of Bubonic Plague in England. Why they did is unknown. Isolationism and a better understanding of hygiene has been cited. Whatever the cause, Walter’s research and detail has credibility. The characters, whilst not complex, are believable. As is their bid for freedom. The Black Death changed the political landscape of England by opening the minds of noble and serf alike that their roles in life were not immutable. The so-called Peasants’ Revolt of 1381 underscored it.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and was prepared to give it 5 stars until the end. Then I was totally confused. The ending was so abrupt. I didn't realise that it was actually a two part story and we have to await the second book. As I have only read this in Kindle the confusion may lie in the electronic transmission, it might be an idea to make this clear to readers.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 9 December 2017
Different, has one of my favourite author's taken up script writing? Anything Minette Walters cares to write, l will read. This felt really different - lm not anti it.... enjoyed it well enough just felt like a part one of lord of the rings type thing - might be me needling to just accept the very new style/story.

Set in the period of the plague, it is educational and interesting, you can almost feel how being there might of been but for me l cant feel it enough, if placed in a time period lm fussy and want saturated in the period - l want to forget my train stop (that's when l read books)

So of course l will buy the next but part of me wonders it this Minette really writing it?
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on 1 November 2017
As usual, Minette Walters delivers the goods. Well plotted, great characterization and historically factual. I enjoyed this tale that drew me into the horror of life in medieval England.
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on 30 January 2018
I really enjoyed this book ,a piece of history you don't hear much about you were really living it !! Loved it ,
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on 27 November 2017
The horrors of the black death overlaid on the lives of serfs and gentry makes gripping story. An excellent read.
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on 31 January 2018
Readers of historical fiction will enjoy this well written and researched novel. Eager to read more stories written by this author
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on 23 March 2018
Colleen gee
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TOP 10 REVIEWERon 28 September 2017
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.
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TOP 50 REVIEWERon 2 February 2018
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.
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TOP 10 REVIEWERon 13 December 2017
Sir Richard of Develish and his entourage are travelling away from home in June 1348 when the Black Death struck. He is trying to arrange the marriage of his daughter Eleanor. But when those where he is staying become ill, Sir Richard decides to travel home. No one knows where the plague came from or how it is spread, and many believe the Church when it claims that God is punishing people for their wickedness. As people flee in their panic, the Black Death casts its net ever wider.

But Sir Richard’s wife, Lady Anne, educated by nuns and literate, believes that if the sick are kept separate from those who are well, it may be possible to keep her community safe. So, Lady Anne, home at the moated Develish manor house, closes off the Develish community. Villagers are moved inside the moat, and Lady Anne refuses Sir Richard and his entourage entry. Can they survive? What does the future hold?

‘In twelve days the world had changed beyond all recognition.’

I’ve read quite a lot of Ms Walters crime novels, and particularly enjoyed the earlier ones. I picked up this historical fiction novel after a few friends had read and praised it highly. I enjoyed it as well. In Lady Anne, Ms Walters has created an intelligent and compassionate hero. She has to try to provide her people with food and security in an environment where nothing is known about what is happening in the world outside the confines of the manor. While some of the people she has can be relied on, others are consumed by jealousy and uncertainty. There are those who resent Lady Anne’s attempts to manage the estate, some of whom seek to undermine her. As the food stocks run low, Lady Anne realises that they need to know what is happening beyond the moat. Lady Anne’s right-hand man, Thaddeus takes a group outside to explore. What will they find?

The story pauses, at the end of 500+ pages. Those of us who want to know how it will end have to wait for the sequel, due (I believe) in October 2018.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
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