Winter Ghosts by Kate Mosse

a review by Steve Cameron

The winter of 1928, and Freddie Watson is touring the French countryside. He’s seeking peace in his grief-filled life, after losing his brother in the Great War. His car spins off the road during a snowstorm and he is able to stumble into a small town. Here he meets Fabrissa, a young woman who is also grieving lost relatives and friends. They spend hours together, sharing their stories and forming a budding relationship. But this is where reality blurs and mystery commences. When Freddie’s memories of events during the previous evening don’t match the town’s residents, he realises something ‘other’ is afoot. A ghost story spanning generations, wars and cultures, it is also a tale of grief, redemption and coping.

This is not a horror story in the modern sense of the genre. There’s nothing but gentle haunting occurring in this town. And the book is all the better for it. Read as a mood piece, the writing perfectly encapsulates Watson’s grief and pain, Fabrissa’s pain and sense of loss and the dreamlike existence of a provincial small town lost in the 20s. Deliberately written as a more traditional ghost story, the language is rich and beautiful, and very moving at times. The novel captures the mystical, eerie twilight between two worlds in a masterly fashion, leaving the reader not frightened, but slightly chilled – as a good ghost story is meant to.

Weaving the narrative elements back and forth across several time periods with ease, Mosse makes intelligent, literate prose look simple to achieve. A number of small photographs throughout illustrate this book and actually do add to the atmosphere generated by the writing. This book developed from a previously published short story, The Cave, and it’s easy to see why Mosse chose to expand it. Her personal interest in medieval France, and the research for her previously published historical novels have obviously been extremely valuable in creating the realistic worlds here.

There are no major surprises throughout the narrative, simply a haunting, thoughtful, well-written, deeply psychological story that I’ll be re-reading soon. With half a dozen novels to her name, and a number of awards on the shelf, Mosse is a writer to watch out for in the future.

 

This article was previously published in Dark Matter issue 3, April 2011, and predated on this website to reflect the original publication date.