Creep­ing plague

Crime writer tries hand at his­tor­i­cal fic­tion

The Morning Bulletin - - REDAX -

THE Black Death qui­etly en­tered Eng­land at the Port of Wey­mouth in 1348 and wiped out about 50% of the pop­u­la­tion.

The Last Hours fo­cuses on a small es­tate in Dorset­shire as the first hints of the ar­rival of the pneu­monic plague are be­ing felt.

The hated Sir Richard takes a jour­ney to ar­range a mar­riage for his 14-year-old daugh­ter, Eleanor, to a nearby es­tate al­ready touched by the plague. His wife, Lady Anne, hears the ru­mours and quar­an­tines the es­tate of Devel­ish and its oc­cu­pants from the out­side world, hop­ing to stop the dis­ease en­ter­ing.

As it gets worse, there are other threats — from rogue sol­diers and peo­ple des­per­ate for help — as well as height­ened ten­sions in­side the self-im­posed prison. Lady Anne faces some big ques­tions. When will it be safe to emerge? And what does a com­mu­nity that has lost most of its pop­u­la­tion look like?

Wal­ters aban­doned crime writ­ing a decade ago af­ter sell­ing 25 mil­lion books and seems cer­tain for a re­turn to the best-seller lists via his­tor­i­cal fic­tion. Part two is out next year. VER­DICT: Riv­et­ing start to a huge story.

THE LAST HOURS, MINETTE WAL­TERS, ALLEN & UN­WIN, RRP $33 — Corinna Hente

Fake or real art­works?

IN 2015, THE au­then­tic­ity of three paint­ings by late artist Brett White­ley came to be scru­ti­nised in the Mel­bourne Mag­is­trates Court. Were the art­works, sup­pos­edly pro­duced in 1988, fakes un­loaded for large sums of money on un­sus­pect­ing busi­ness­men? Or was the ec­cen­tric heroin addict sim­ply hav­ing an off day when he painted them? More im­por­tantly, with so-called art ex­perts, in­clud­ing White­ley’s ex-wife, dis­agree­ing with one an­other, how does one prove in a court of law what is gen­uine and what is an im­i­ta­tion?

Coslovich fol­lows the court case (and the fol­low­ing ap­peal) that sent shock waves through the Aus­tralian art com­mu­nity. Rather than sim­ply re­port the court hap­pen­ings, Coslovich clev­erly weaves el­e­ments of the story to­gether un­til it reads like a mys­tery novel. She in­ter­views wit­nesses, stud­ies the ev­i­dence and re­ceives anony­mous emails to pro­duce an ex­cit­ing who­dunit. Well framed.

WHITE­LEY ON TRIAL, GABRIELLA COSLOVICH, MEL­BOURNE UNIVER­SITY PRESS, RRP $33 — Jeff May­nard

Dead-good plot

A NEB­ULA is a cloud of in­ter­stel­lar gas and dust. So it is ap­pro­pri­ate that

Soon, win­ner of the 2015 Tas­ma­nian

Premier’s Prize for an un­pub­lished man­u­script, is set in the fic­ti­tious town of

Ne­bu­lah. It is a para­nor­mal thriller but also about re­la­tion­ships, loy­alty and the desperation of ne­ces­sity.

Ne­bu­lah is like any iso­lated Aussie town, with its char­ac­ters, ten­u­ous econ­omy and is­sues. But that changes on June 22, 1998, when a con­voy of grey four-wheel drives car­ry­ing shad­ow­less men ar­rive and then, just as quickly, dis­ap­pear down a dead-end road. With them, go the birds.

Sud­denly, each dusk, Ne­bu­lah’s streets be­come deadly as a mist de­scends, bring­ing su­per­nat­u­ral forces try­ing to se­duce the liv­ing out­side. Most nights the hand­ful of res­i­dents who haven’t been slaugh­tered or run out of town gather with the TV turned up to block out the scratch­ing at the door.

Ex-cop Pete feels a duty to pro­tect those cling­ing to their homes. But he fears his num­ber might be up soon too. VER­DICT: Dead good.

SOON, LOIS MUR­PHY, TRAN­SIT LOUNGE, RRP $29.95 — Shel­ley Had­field

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