In an exciting new direction from an established author, bestselling British author Minette Walters brings her trademark suspense to a vivid historical novel that dramatizes the arrival of the Black Death in England in 1348 and the social upheaval that followed.
In June 1348, the Black Death enters England through the port of Melcombe (now Weymouth) in the County of Dorsetshire. Unprepared for the virulence of the disease, and the speed with which it spreads, the people of the county have little or no defense. By the time the pestilence ends in the winter of 1350, contemporary writers record that barely one in ten of Dorset's population is still alive. Whole villages vanish from history forever, and a culture of terror and superstition spreads across England as news of the Black Death's killing power is carried abroad by messengers. In the belief that God has sent a plague to punish sinners, most follow the teachings of the church and look for salvation through atonement and absolution. A few question whether God's nature is as vengeful as the church preaches and take measures to protect themselves.
The Last Hours is set in the demesne of Develish in Dorsetshire. Widowed by her husband's death from the pestilence, Lady Anne assumes control of his people's future--two hundred bonded serfs without rights to ownership of land. Strong, compassionate, and resourceful--qualities she kept hidden from the husband she loathed and despised--Lady Anne chooses a bastard slave, Thaddeus Thurkell, to act as her steward. Together they decide to quarantine Develish by bringing the serfs inside a defensible moat and sharing the available food among all. With this sudden overturning of the accepted social order, where serfs exist only to serve their lords, conflict arises when they're given a voice. Ignorant of what is happening in the world outside, they wrestle with themselves, with God, and with the terrible uncertainty of their futures. They fear starvation when their food runs out, but they fear the pestilence more. Who among them has the courage to leave the safety of the demesne in search of supplies and news? And how safe is anyone in Develish when an unexplained murder threatens the uneasy status quo?