Friday, 16 November 2018

A Discovering Diamonds review of The Turn of Midnight by Minette Walters

alas, only 2 stars

Note: At Discovering Diamonds we rarely give 3 star or less reviews, our policy being if a novel isn’t at least 3+ stars there is no point in recommending it. There are a few exceptions: the occasional mainstream/traditional published by well-known authors which don’t come up to scratch…

Fictional saga
14th century

I dislike not finishing a novel. It seems to me to be disrespectful to the author. But when the author shows disrespect to the reader, it is justified.
And I'm afraid I couldn't finish this novel.

A second instalment of a story following a village who are doing all they can to protect themselves from the onward march of the plague in 1348, chiefly by cutting themselves off with a convenient moat around the manor house, this novel continues to explore the lives of those affected, Lady Anne, the lady of the manor, Thaddeus her steward, her step-daughter Eleanor, and various inhabitants. There is a fairly thorough character analysis at the beginning of the volume to explain who everyone is and what they are doing, but even so, even if you can plough through that, this is not a stand-alone novel and doesn't even pretend to be. There is no backstory in the narrative at all. Unless you've read the first one, don't attempt this sequel.

There is often debate about how accurate historical fiction should or shouldn’t be. General consensus of opinion is that the author has a ‘duty of care’ to be as accurate as research permits for the bits that demand accuracy. What people actually did and said or reacted to situations is usually the ‘made-up’ bits of fiction, balanced against the factual side of how they dressed, what they ate – how they lived.

When I say that Ms Walters has disrespected her readers, I mean that although she has obviously researched some of her book - some of it is well depicted - she has fallen into almost every trap set by a plethora of Hollywood films that purport to be accurate. It falls into parody in places, and just sheer confusion at others. Had Ms Walters been an Indie or lesser-known author she would be drummed out of Amazon for the glaring errors, and branded as a charlatan author. Because she isn’t indie or less-known, however, has she got away with it? Here on Discovering Diamonds, no she hasn’t.

There now follows a history lesson. Ms Walters, please take note.
Ms Walter's tension built between Saxons and Normans. This is 1348. Not far short of three-hundred years after the Norman Conquest. That is, put into context, like saying you are a Jacobite today or an American Colonist with no concept of Independence from British rule. The fourteenth century is the great era of Englishness, the start of the cult of St George, Edward III and the victory of Crecy, England versus France, the quartering of the English coat of arms. England was populated by the English.

A few pages on she decides that a man she has referred to as French is in fact Norman and that is why 'Saxon' Lady Anne dislikes him. The Normans who came to England with such devastating effect in 1066 would have been insulted to be called 'French'. They were not French, even their language differed. So, if Master de Courtesmain is Norman, he is not French. And if he is French and happens to come from Normandy, well, Normandy had been under the control of France since 1204. So he's French and the tension is not because she's Saxon and remembers 1066, but because he's not English. (And anyway, it’s likely that being even minor nobility in the fourteenth century would mean you were, even partially if not wholly, of Norman descent.)

Master de Courtesmain is also the catalyst for the next part of our history lesson. Lady Anne refers to him as 'sir' with all the disdain of a disgruntled Customer Service assistant. Except he's not 'Sir', he's Master. He isn't a knight and so Anne would not be calling him 'sir' any more than she would call him 'Duke' or 'King'.

Ms Walters' peasants reckon time in seconds. Considering that the oldest clock in England still extant was built around 1386 and it can only count in hours, and has no dial, how can a peasant know what a second is in 1349? (‘A heartbeat’ is fine as a way of describing time. Seconds isn’t.)

The word ‘demesne’ means land that is occupied by the lord of the manor for his own purposes, not rented out to a sub-tenant. The more mundane but accurate 'village' would have been more correct.

And what decided me on giving up on the book? A demand to see a piece of parchment with orders from the king - with his 'signature' on the bottom. Kings in the fourteenth century didn't 'sign' things. They sealed things. Or, rather, others wrote the document and sealed it on his behalf.

And according to my Kindle, all this above is in just the first 16% of the novel. Lord knows how Hollywoodised the rest of it is.

To be fair, if you prefer Hollywood History, are not bothered by inaccuracies and don’t mind buying the first book in order to make sense of this second one in the series, then you’ll probably enjoy the read. Minette Walters does what she usually does very well indeed – crime thrillers. I strongly suggest that she sticks to them and gives up on pretending to be a writer of historical fiction.

© DDRevs reviewer

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  1. Excellent review and illustrates perfectly what Discovering Diamonds is all about ....

  2. I started reading book 1 before I spotted the DD review. I'm afraid it isn't engrossing me. I don't think I'll be attempting book 2.


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