The Last Hours by Minette Walters

‘A Black Death has fallen upon our land.’

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