The Turn of Midnight continues the story of The Last Hours and the people of Develish during the Black Death which devastated England in the mid fourteenth century. The book begins with a useful recap of The Last Hours which sets the scene but I’d suggest you read the books in order to get the most out of this sequel.
Minette Walters’ is an award-winning crime writer who, after a decade of not writing, turned her hand to historical fiction when she discovered that where she lived in Dorset was close to where it was thought the plague first arrived in England in 1348.
She is a wonderful story teller with stellar narrative power. Her writing is absolutely absorbing and a delight to read. Her impeccable research into the medieval period paints a brilliant word picture of the people, places and the times – full of conflict, intrigue and pathos.
In The Turn of Midnight we see that, although Lady Anne has done her utmost to protect her community, food is running low and they need to know how far the pestilence has spread and who else remains alive. Thaddeus Thurkell, her right hand man who was sent out with lads from the village, has not yet returned and those left behind fear the worst. The group find death and devastation wherever they go but also a few survivors.
The narrative switches seamlessly from the perilous journey of Thaddeus and the boys to the events at Develish which we view through the innermost thoughts of Lady Anne’s private journal.
Walters writes brilliantly of the hopes, fears and thoughts of her characters but there is far more depth to her work than her skill of characterisation. She eloquently portrays the terror of an unknown disease which can kill a person in a day yet seems to arbitrarily spare others. The Black Death killed around a third of the population of England with many of those being clergy, monks and nuns who ministered to the sick and dying.
In spite of all the deaths, the story is powerful and uplifting as Walters demonstrates the resilience of the human spirit which challenges the so called accepted wisdom that the plague as a punishment from god. Between Thaddeus and the boys we see bonds forged from friendship and loyalty. Between Lady Anne and Thaddeus, their love for each other remains unstated while they have a duty to all the people of Develish.
The Turn of Midnight demonstrates the difficulties and divisions inevitable in the rigidly structured feudal society which now had a truly decimated population. Lady Anne and Thaddeus devise a daring plan to bring freedom to those poor people who had always had their destinies predetermined by their birth and their ‘betters’. But there are more difficulties and betrayals to overcome before freedom becomes a reality.
Reviewed by Jan Kershaw
Rating out of 10: 9
Distributed by: Allen & Unwin
Released: November 2018