The Winter Ghosts by Kate Mosse
A quick disclaimer before we begin – the Kate Mosse who is the author of The Winter Ghosts is a successful British writer and broadcaster, not the successful British supermodel of the same name.
She is best known for her 2005 novel Labyrinth, which has been translated into 37 languages, and I’m going to go out on a limb and say that I think The Winter Ghosts will find the same level of success, not least because Mosse is exploring some of the same themes in this new book.
The Winter Ghosts is set in Southern France in the winter of 1928, in a small and mysterious village by the name of Nulle.
Our protagonist is a bit of a tragic figure – he’s a young and very unhappy Englishman by the name of Freddie Watson, who has never recovered from losing his older brother George in World War I (then known as the Great War), and Freddie is estranged from their parents, so he is basically alone in the world.
He has suffered terribly in the intervening years, as we learn, including a stint in a sanatorium where he was treated for a mental breakdown, so when we meet him at the beginning of the book as he enters this isolated French village, he’s really looking for some kind of solace or rescue, which sets up a mood of expectancy and anticipation for the reader.
Freddie stumbles upon the Nulle literally by accident, when his car spins off the road during a storm, and evening is approaching and he comes across the boarding house of Monsieur and Madame Galy.
Madame Galy takes him in and he notices that despite it being a large boarding house, there are no other guests and according to the guest register, the last visitors were some months ago.
All of this adds to the atmosphere of foreboding and secrecy, and when Madame Galy invites Freddie to join in the festival of Saint-Etienne later that night, he jumps at the chance to meet some new people and figure out what’s going on in this curious little village.
The festival is where he meets Guillaume, who introduces him to a number of the villagers, including a beautiful young woman called Fabrissa, who is beguiling and mysterious and encourages him to open up about George.
They spend the evening together drinking, dancing and celebrating, and then Fabrissa tells Freddie a terrible story that is really at the heart of the book, and leads Freddie to uncover the horrific events that happened in the village centuries earlier.
The novel is written from the point of view of Freddie five years after what he describes taking place, so there is a sense of reflectiveness that pervades the whole book, and I think it will appeal to anyone with an interest in history – it’s really a kind of literary mystery with very some powerful historical elements, and it’s the kind of book that stays with you for a long time.
Previously published on Coast.co.nz
Reviewer: Stephanie Jones
Published by Hachette