Bestselling crime novelist Minette Walters has written her first novel in a decade, returning with an unexpected move into historical fiction.
She delivered The Last Days, set in Dorset in the plague year of 1348, on the eve of the London Book Fair. It is Walters’ first novel since 2007’s The Chameleon’s Shadow, though she has published two novellas, A Dreadful Murder and The Cellar, since then. The Last Days centres around the courageous young widow Lady Anne, who quarantines her village to try to save people from the plague. But the food begins to run out, and soon there is an unexplained murder. The author said her new direction was not so drastic a move. “History is as intriguing as crime,” she said. “Both ask why disastrous events happen and whether they could have been avoided. I became fascinated by the Black Death when I learnt that it entered England some nine miles from where I live in Dorset. It set me to wondering how badly my county had been affected and why no precautions were taken against it.”
Jane Gregory, founder of Walters’ agency Gregory & Company, said the author’s hiatus was down to “life, deaths, marriages, births, charity work and enjoying the proceeds of crime.” Walters has written 12 contemporary crime novels, which have been translated into 35 languages and sold around 25 million units worldwide. She has shifted just under 1.9 million copies (for £11.3m) through BookScan UK since records began in 1998.
Australasian rights to The Last Days were snapped up by Walters’ long-time publisher in those territories, Allen & Unwin, and the book is on submission to Walters’ option publishers. “We have accepted an early pre-empt from Croatia and expect to receive offers during the fair,” Gregory added.
Gregory & Company has a number of other hot titles at the fair, including Val McDermid’s Out of Bounds, Paula Daly’s The Trophy Wife and Belinda Bauer’s The Beautiful Dead. Gregory said: “We’ve been busy... As well as sales in the more traditional European languages, [rights manager] Claire Morris has recently sold to publishers in Macedonia, Vietnam and South Korea.”