The Last Hours is one of those novels that is completely adequate, enjoyable even, but then quickly fades from view after completion. The novel is set in the summer of 1348 at the onset of the first wave of the Black Death in a demesne called Develish in Dorsetshire. Led by the plucky and intelligent Lady Anne, the population of Develish survives the plague by retreating behind the moat protected main residence and refusing the re-entry of anyone, including her egocentric and violent husband, Sir Richard. There is a large ensemble of characters, most of whom are well rounded enough, including the bastard serf, Thaddeus Thurkell, on whose hard-working shoulders much of the narrative rests. A special mention must go to Lady Anne's daughter, Eleanor, whose extreme levels of petulance, stupidity and cruelty almost steals the show.
Lady Anne and Thaddeus Thurkell are characters that embody the massive changes the Black Plague brought about, shattering the well established feudal system to create a new social and economic order. Readers who know a bit about medieval history will find enough to enjoy, however despite the dangers of the plague and the perilous position of Develish I did not find the novel to be particularly compelling. Walter's style, despite making her name as a crime writer, seems reserved and polite, as if the lengthy novel is a children's bed-time story designed to be read in episodic form to aid getting to sleep. Although this seems like faint praise, readers who enjoy novels with the right kind of substance (enough to engage, but not too much to tire you out on a hot afternoon) for a holiday read will love The Last Hours.