I have abandoned reading since 2011 as my Goodreads profile tells me. I began picking up books again during this pandemic and not out of the ordinary I chose a plague-related book to read. I thought to myself: it’s 2020, it’s pandemic time, and I’ve got plenty of time to pick up books and read again. So I did.
Minette Walters is a new writer to me as I have never heard or read of her before. Though I have to be honest, the cover design of this book drew me in and then the book description and story excerpt. I picked Minette Walters’ THE LAST HOURS to ease my way back into reading.
The Last Hours
I got through the first pages of THE LAST HOURS, thinking about how I have missed the beautiful and carefully written English. I was also thinking of what lies ahead in the chapters as I go along, trying to remember the lessons I learned from Black Death module in college. Nothing prepared me for Minette Walter’s style of writing.
I went about the usual way when reading novels with historical settings. For THE LAST HOURS, I looked for the demesne of Develish by Google Search and yet, I didn’t find it. So, I did some digging only not with trowels as I used to do.
The setting is probably of a fictional place, Develish, or it could be of a location situated in modern-day Dewlish, Dorset. The parish of Dewlish was recorded in Domesday Book in 1086 of having 38 households and was recorded as the land of Count Alan of Brittany. In Domesday Book, the village name was noted as Devenis which believed to had then transformed to Deueliz (in 1194), Douelis (in 1212), and Dewelisshe (in 1481). I believe this is the same area cause it’s located pretty much in the same location nearby Devil’s Brook in modern-day Dorsetshire.
Overlaying the map provided in the book to a screen capture of Google Maps ensured me that the location is indeed Dewlish. Clues from surrounding locations also showed me that I was looking in the right place. The map included in THE LAST HOURS corresponds to 2020’s Google Map view with alterations and developments in and around the areas of Afpedle (now Affpuddle?) and Aethelhelm (now Athelhampton?).
Current roads towards Poole and Dorchester may have been of different routes but still visible with Google Maps. It’s probably a bad habit to research too much on a place or places within a novel you’re reading. At best, all of them could be something that the writer’s pull out of their imagination. But hey, it’s fun. That’s why I did it. Now that I know more about the place, I can dive into the characters and the story of THE LAST HOURS.
Dewlish House, Dorset
I have always loved Medieval archaeology and my archaeology brain is still bugged by the location of where this story took place and the questions of: Is it true? Was there a manor house there? What if we excavate there, would there be remnants of said manor house? Remnants of moat ditches, potholes, old roads? The closest description of location I could find was from An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in Dorset, Volume 3, Central in the British History website. Although it was mainly describing structures in Dewlish from the 17th-18th century, it did mention some remains of the former settlement, lies E., S. and S.W. of the church which was referred to as Court Close.
There is a Dewlish House which was said to have been built in 1702 near/on top of a Roman villa. But this manor house in the story was at least built since the 1200s(?). And then, why do people stop using the moat system in the following century’s architectural features? Is it a Norman thing, is it a Saxon thing or is it a simple mode of defence? See how I spent so much time rambling only about the location of the story? Apologies, that’s my (ex)archaeologist brain spewing out even though this book is categorised as historical fiction. Somehow, perhaps there is always truth in each fiction, it’s just hidden.
The People of Develish
I loved how Minette Walters’ writing evokes imaginations on how a certain person would look like. I have a picture in my mind of Lady Anne, Thaddeus, Eleanor, Gyles, Isabella, and almost everyone in the book. But ELEANOR… Good, God! Eleanor is mighty annoying. If shouts were heard during me reading THE LAST HOURS it very possible was caused by whatever Eleanor is doing.
Minette Walters depicted Eleanor exactly the way that made me hate her so much since the beginning of the book. I find Eleanor’s demeanour is distasteful and highly disagreeable. Even in real life, I have thin tolerance for people with such traits. Until the moment this review is written, I still have no kind words to say to and about Eleanor. I was imagining that she will be dead of the plague by mid-story. But no, Minette Walters had other plans for Eleanor. Nevertheless, I still hate Eleanor to the bone. Let’s see if I change my mind after finishing THE TURN OF MIDNIGHT.
Meanwhile, I’m close to imagining Isabella as a replacement to Lady Anne to be the leader of the demesne in case something bad to happen to Lady Anne. Hopefully not, she’s a fine leader already. She exudes the aura of Florence Nightingale-like persona and character. I might be wrong, but that is how I pictured Lady Anne to be.
Thaddeus, Thaddeus… the said bastard of Eva Thurkell. I have certain imagery of this person in real life. The only person I can think of is Alfred Enoch. I don’t always understand the decisions made by Thaddeus. It feels to me that he is always two steps ahead from everyone when deciding to do something and then perhaps decide that he would explain his behaviour. Not saying it’s a guy thing, but it’s a guy thing.
Should THE LAST HOURS be made into a TV series or a movie, I can see:
- Lady Anne should be played by Emily Blunt or Rosamund Pike.
- Gyles should be played by Martin Freeman. Simon Pegg would be good as Gyles too.
- Sir Richard can be played by Kenneth Branagh for all I care. Or Kenneth Branagh can also play Lord Bourne.
- Emma Watson as Eleanor–not because I hate Emma Watson that I pictured her as Eleanor.
- Isabella should be played by Felicity Jones
- Olivia Coleman would be great as Martha!
- Last but not least, Alfred Enoch must be Thaddeus Thurkell.
And please, movie people, don’t fuck it up.
Discussion: The Plague
I picked this book imagining that I would be exposed to the harsh and gore depiction of how the pestilence takes someone’s life. I didn’t find this at all in the book. As grim and gore the Black Death is, it was carefully and thoughtfully written. Moreover, the theme of the plague seemed to serve only as a background of any actions, decisions, and choices made by the characters in THE LAST HOURS.
I especially loved it the way people in Develish were scrambling their brains to figure out where had the pestilence came from and to think that this was the time when there is no Facebook or Twitter, it’s comprehensible that something as deadly can be so frightening. Compare that to when our pandemic started. The news was all over it, and Facebook was all over it, memes were all over it, forums were all over it even before WHO released a statement. We’re lucky we have WHO now—there wasn’t an equivalent of WHO to guide you through a plague in 1348.
I loved the thought process that is going on within Lady Anne and Thaddeus and Gyles when they’re trying to figure out how and why the disease infects someone. Perhaps, like anyone else right now, I can especially relate to when Gyles was told to isolate himself for fourteen days period before being allowed to cross the moat back to the Manor. It was also too close to home when I got to the part in THE LAST HOURS, where people inside the Bradmayne Manor (possible modern-day Broadmayne?) was sceptical about the illness.
It felt like I was reading the anti-maskers nowadays—the people who told other people to educate themselves but they got their education solely from Facebook posts. It was morbidly funny—and that is why I love it. Yeah, they’re all dead by the way, in Bradmayne. No spoilers there. It’s the frikkin‘ Black Death.
Lady Anne was not wrong at all when she thought that there bound to be changes after the pestilence is gone. Well, not gone-gone—as we know that it was back in 1665-1666. But it did shift the labour market and social construct in England. I’m not pulling this out of my arse, there are scientifically written books about this issue (see further reading). I’ve written another post about the plague in England when I visited Eyam.
I would definitely recommend THE LAST HOURS for people who enjoy reading historical fiction with Black Death theme. I can categorise this book as nearly clean from prudish acts (yes, I am eyeing you, ELEANOR) and is suitable for young adults. Depictions of such things are not as overt as Ken Follett’s books.
The Last Hours: Conclusion
I finished THE LAST HOURS in two weeks span of reading time as I was screaming and cursing Eleanor. That moment was the peak of my hatred for her and I feel like I could be banging her head into the wall to wake her up from her delusions. For me, this is the perfect book for pandemic time reading as it now relates so much closer. THE LAST HOURS depicted thought processes and deliberations on how to deal with an unseen uncertainty. Isn’t this relatable now? I wished so bad that we could go back to where we were in 2019 with actual normal human interaction sans Zoom or Skype or Team.
I would definitely recommend THE LAST HOURS for people who enjoy reading historical fiction with Black Death theme. I can categorise this book as nearly clean from prudish acts (yes, I am eyeing you, ELEANOR) and is suitable for young adults. Depictions of such things are not as overt as Ken Follett’s books. It’s not that I mind, some people prefer subtlety and some can tolerate explicit writings. This book is more on the subtle spectrum for me.
Lastly, I think I’ve found my niche of the favourite reading genre. I settled on 10th-14th century England settings and leave out Tudor times for another chance as that period is a little bit too complicated for my taste. Reading Minette Walters’ THE LAST HOURS reignited the passion and habit I’ve abandoned for so long. I made a personal promise to read more in 2021 onward. I currently have more than 100 books lined up for reading, mostly in this niche of the 10th-14th century England though I do have Ken Follett’s THE EVENING AND THE MORNING in there too.
In another note, I’m still looking for books with Lindisfarne as its setting. It’s a very interesting period when the Vikings arrived on the shores of England in 793 AD. Perhaps I should search through Bamburgh Castle and not specifically Lindisfarne. But I have enough book even to go through 2021’s challenge and for now, I have two more books to finish the Goodread’s 2020 Reading Challenge. I think I can manage to fit in two more books during these last months of 2020 while waiting for the pandemic to be over–such wishful thinking. I already have THE TURN OF MIDNIGHT as an ongoing reading and I will be sure to write a further review on the continuation of the adventure of people of Develish.
1. McNeill, W.H.1978. Plagues and Peoples. Doubleday, ISBN: 9780385121224.
2. Cantor, N.F. 2002. In the Wake of the Plague: The Black Death and the World It Made. Harper Perennial. ISBN: 978-0060014346.
3. Herlihy, D. 1997. The Black Death and the Transformation of the West. Harvard University Press. ISBN: 978-0674076136.