Crime writer tries hand at historical fiction
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. VERDICT: Well framed. WHITELEY ON TRIAL, GABRIELLA COSLOVICH, MELBOURNE UNIVERSITY PRESS, RRP $33 — Jeff Maynard
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 So it is appropriate that Soon, winner of the 2015 Tasmanian Premier’s Prize for an unpublished manuscript, is set in the fictitious town of Nebulah.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