You just know when the book you’ve just started reading is going to be 5*. For me, not many are. I read lots of good 3* and 4* books. I reserve 5* sparingly for the special ones. The Turn of Midnight by Minette Walters is one of those. It ticks so many boxes. Thriller, history, surprises, great characters and a tantalising bit of love from afar; Walters is a master storyteller. And this is a story of a grim period in British history. The Black Death. Medieval England. Gruesome detail, and yet I stayed up late to finish it. Why, because she makes me love the characters and manages that delicate balancing act of giving me just enough historical detail to be interesting but not too much that it becomes tedious.
The Turn of Midnight is the sequel to The Last Hours which tells the story of the Black Death and its impact on the small Dorsetshire demesne of Develish. After the death of her husband from the plague his widow Lady Anne quarantines the demesne, introduces cleanliness routines and organises her healthy family, servants and serfs into a self-supporting and mutually-respectful society; unheard of in 1348. Woven into this story of survival is a romantic thread as Lady Anne and Thaddeus Thirkell, an illegitimate serf born on the demesne who Lady Anne has educated over the years to a standard of education greater than anyone else in the community excepting herself. Where The Last Hours is something of a closed room story with a tight-knit cast of characters and one location, The Turn of Midnight sees Thaddeus and a group of young men venture out into Dorsetshire to assess the dangers of the plague and the survival of other villages. When they return with a story of death, desertion and dereliction, a plan is formed to buy the neighbouring demesne of Pedle Hinton and so provide a home and farmland for the Develish citizens, the number of which has grown with the number of healthy wanderers they have adopted. But outside the demesne moat there are many enemies: bandits thieving and preying on the vulnerable, Norman soldiers who hate the English serfs, English serfs who hate anyone Norman, and corrupt priests, stewards and lords who swear they are acting in the name of God.
The plan is risky. Lady Anne and Thaddeus know that, although not robbing living people, they are taking possessions and gold which is not rightly theirs. It culminates in a struggle of religion, power and prejudice. Will common sense and the right of the people triumph? Whilst Lady Anne fights a battle against prejudice of her sex where she is better educated than the men who accuse her, Thaddeus similarly fights against prejudice of his worker roots and foreign tall dark physique.
Walters lives in Dorset and this shows in her sweeping creation of medieval Dorsetshire, she writes of the countryside, nature and the seasons with such surety you know she knows it well. This is a story of the first breaths of social mobility in a time of class hierarchy that prevented starving serfs from eating food meant for their lords, even though those lords are dead or have fled. Lady Anne’s common sense approach brings survival, health, basic education and hope for the future.
Read The Last Hours first, here’s my review.
And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
THE TURN OF MIDNIGHT by Minette Walters #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-3xR via @SandraDanby