After a gap of ten years Minette Walter's new novel is a game changer for the author once dubbed the “queen of British crime” The Last Hours is an historical novel set in 1348 in rural Dosetshire as The Black Death sweeps across England. I had the chance to put a few questions to the bestselling writer and asked her what drew her to the subject matter. “As a story teller, I'm intrigued by everything and the Black Death is a powerfully interesting subject. Six centuries on, it's hard to grasp how devastating it was or how far-reaching its consequences.”
While it might seem an unusual step for a writer to move out of the thriller genre towards historical fiction; the author sees it as a natural progression. “The idea for The Last Hours kept knocking at my mind and never to have written it for the sake of remaining in 'genre' would have been frustrating. In any case, I wonder if it is such a big change! The Black Death was the worst killer man has ever known. Which crime author wouldn't want to write about it... and point fingers at the culprits? There are many worse criminals in history than there are in crime fiction. Despite the apparent change of genre Minette Walters talents as a thriller writer are still very much in evidence with a cast of characters trapped in a confined space and growing fears about their own survival the author ramps up the tension and with this novel she has given us some truly memorable characters that will captivate readers.
Walters is a longtime resident of Dorset and the locality and it's history seems to gotten under the author's skin “My husband and I moved to Dorset nearly twenty years ago, and one of the first things we learnt about our village was that it has a plague pit. No one’s entirely sure where it is, but the 12th century church still stands and visitors can still see the mounds that delineate the medieval settlement. The whole site is a scheduled monument and it's hard to rub shoulders with history without becoming fascinated by it.” Living in an area so closely impacted by such a a devastating event it was probably inevitable that Walters' writer's brain would begin to ask what if? While the Black Death has been explored in fiction before the fact that the novel focuses in on the impact felt in a very particular location and a small group of people makes it a unique and intriguing prospect for fans of Medieval fiction. “The Black Death became a particular interest when I discovered that its first port of entry into England was Melcombe (Weymouth) which is 9 miles from where we live. 14th century chroniclers reported barely one in ten being left alive in Dorset by the time the pestilence passed. I wondered what that meant...Had some fled?..who were the ‘bare’ few who managed to survive? And how had they avoided it?”
Walters took a long break from writing, other than a horror novella The Cellar in 2015 she has not published in ten years and while she never gave up wrting she did take a step back and with time to think the idea for The Last Hours began to form “I did indeed spend considerable time on research for The Last Hours but, once the idea crystalised in my head, the writing came easily.” I'm sure her countless fans will be pleased she's back and she is likely to gather many more fans from those who enjoy the books of Sarah Hawkswood, Karen Maitland and S.D. Sykes.
Lisa Redmond is a writer, currently working a novel about 17th-century Scottish witches. She blogs about books, writing and women in history.