My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Kate Mosse has taken the history of the Cathars, a persecuted religious sect in 14th century France, and made it her own. In her third novel, The Winter Ghosts, she departs from the archaeo-thriller genre to try her hand at a ghost story. Freddie Watson has lost ten years of his life to his grief over the death of his beloved brother in the Great War. Having recovered from a severe breakdown, he’s mentally and physically fragile, and his physician recommends an extended holiday. Freddie decides to drive through the Languedoc, and, caught in a snowstorm in the Pyrennees, he crashes his car and must take refuge in a remote village. He’s struck by the loneliness of Nulle, but is grateful to be given shelter by a kindly woman who runs a small inn. She invites him to the village fete, to which everyone wears medieval clothing. Feeling rather silly, he accepts, and is pleased to make the acquaintance of a lovely young woman in a long blue robe. Both Freddie and Fabrissa have suffered shattering losses, and they are drawn to each other, sharing their experiences throughout the long evening.
Ms. Mosse populates this evocative tale with cobbled lanes, hidden caves, mysterious ruins, and mountainous pathways. Because Freddie is psychologically exhausted, he’s also more susceptible to the vibrations of violence, death, mourning, and compassion. Little by little, he comes to understand the shadows which darken Nulle, and to find release from his own shadowy struggle. Did he encounter some sort of “time-slip”, or is his awakening attributable to his own psychological healing?
While this is no horror story, The Winter Ghosts, with its restrained yet evocative prose and atmospheric setting, may continue to haunt you long after the last page has been turned.