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Minette Walters made her name as a writer of tense, gory, often harrowing psychological thrillers. She must have felt that she'd written herself out because this is her first book for ten years and it's a sweeping historical saga in the style of Ken Follett. I say sweeping but in fact she's working on a small canvas; it's 1348 and Lady Anne of the manor of Devilish in Dorset hears of a strange and devestating pestilence sweeping the countryside and orders all her serfs within the walls to sit out out the spread of the disease. Needess to say conflicts start developing among the 200 souls who are confined closely together.

 

This is a bit of a curates egg of a book. It is full of wild anachronisms- Lady Anne is incredibly well educated and has a grasp of how infection is spread that many people didn't have in the 19th century, her ideas on equlity, the poor improving their lot, high birth not necessarilymeaning that you have an automatic right to the service of others, consideration to your servants, sexual abuse and the right of women not to sleep with their husbands are very 21st century and definitely not medieval. Some of the charecters come straight out of central casting too; the spoilt daughter of the house, the noble base born steward, the quiet little woman who is so much cleverer than anyone notices.

 

But for me the good bits outweigh the clunky stuff completely (I'm a historian's grandaughter and normally I can't stand that sort of stuff.) Minette Walters is very good indeed at creating atmosphereand a sense of place. Her descriptions of the confinement where no-one knows how the disease is spreading, if there is anyone left alive is compêlling as is the ways she describes the life of the serf. There is a long part near the end of the book where the base born steward and five youths go out to search for supplies, none of them have ever been outside the boundaries of the manor lands before, have ever seen a differnt style of house or as it turns out, a cat.The world; the  one very small corner of Dorset they visit, is bigger, more exciting and infinitely  more frightening than any of them imagine.

 

All in all this was a very good read. However, be warned it's part of a series and ends very abruptly.

 

Edited by Viccie
Correcting typos due to tyoing in the near dark.

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The second book has just come out in hardback, I didn't know it was a series so thanks for the tip, as I have this book!

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I bought both books at the same time as a special offer on Kobo, though I didn't realise when I was reading The Last Hours that it's part 1 and not a stand alone start to a series.

 

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This is available for £0.99 from Amazon.co.uk - and you can add audio for an additional £3.99 allowing a seamless switch between reading and narration.

The reviews are really mixed.  Makes it tempting...

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