Book Review: The Winter Ghosts

Thursday 9 October 2014 by

The Winter Ghosts, Orion, Kate MosseThe Winter Ghosts by Kate Mosse

Published by Orion

Do you believe in ghosts?

It’s 1928. Freddie Watson is still grieving for his brother, lost in the Great War. Driving through the foothills of the French Pyrenees, his car spins off the road in a snowstorm. Freddie takes refuge in an isolated village and there meets a beautiful, captivating woman. They spend the night talking of love and loss and war. But by daybreak, Fabrissa has vanished and Freddie realises he holds the key to an ancient mystery that leads him deep into the mountains, to a cave that has concealed an appalling secret for 700 years…


I’m a fan of Kate Mosse as a rule – Labyrinth was brilliantly done and set in one of my favourite places, Carcassonne. She has an uncanny knack of evoking a place and time with haunting reality, and her grasp of French history and place is amazing (it is partly thanks to Labyrinth that I fell in love so much with Carcassonne!)

So why did I not connect with The Winter Ghosts? In a swift 239 pages, there was something missing from what should have been a classic Kate Mosse tale.

The beauty of it, however, is her ability to smoothly take you from present to past, to present again with a blink of an eye. She toys with the supernatural with eerie ease, in a way that doesn’t feel forced or too obvious, and in this novel you find yourself joining Freddie in the abandoned village square, knowing and yet not-knowing that something is going to happen.

But Fabrissa isn’t as captivating as you would hope, and the story stutters and falters once they leave the confines of the village hall. Freddie is simply not a convincing lead for me, and Fabrissa feels uncertain because of it.

The mystery itself is hugely compelling – Mosse plays the twists with a light touch and has never failed to achieve her aim. But Labyrinth was four times the size of The Winter Ghosts, and drew much more depth and magic from its story than this did. And perhaps that’s my ultimate problem with this book – it’s just too short. There is no time for it to stretch its wings and really get in to the meat of the story.

As ghost stories go, it’s a pretty good one, falling in to the odd trope without actually feeling like you’re nodding your head to the clichés. There are suitably spooky moments that get the hairs on your neck standing up (the journey through the snowy woods), but there are also awkward moments that simply don’t feel authentic (Fabrissa’s disappearance). I felt ambiguous about it by the end of it, and made me wonder what I had missed.

Mosse is a brilliant writer, and this is not a bad story by any means. But it failed to pull me in with the same magic that her previous books have done. Perhaps it was its brevity; perhaps it was the trembling uncertainty of Fabrissa. But there was a lack of something that made me feel dissatisfied with this book, and disappointed with something that didn’t live up to what I had hoped.

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