On his twenty-first birthday, six years after the death of his older brother in World War I, Freddie Watson finally succumbs to his grief and goes mad. Years later, released from the sanitarium, as he drives into the French Pyrenees for a holiday, his car crashes in a snowstorm. He finds shelter in a small village where he connects with his soul mate, a young beautiful ethereal girl, Fabrissa, who disappears after one night. Is his experience real or imagined? Is he reverting to madness or privy to another world? Kate Mosse’s The Winter Ghosts will immerse you in Gothic romance and mystery, while revealing the commonality of war – whether in the 14th or 20th century.
The story has a maddeningly slow start, with elaborate descriptions and flashbacks. Once Fabrissa appears, the action reverts to ghostly secrets that are not too difficult to unravel, but Mosse offers a different spin on the obvious.
Mosse uses the Cathar persecution in medieval France as the historical premise for the mystery; zealot Catholic Crusaders had the Pope’s blessing to plunder villages and kill, in the name of salvation. When villagers hid in caves in the hills, the soldiers sealed them in with boulders, creating a living tomb. In the story, Fabrissa wears the yellow cross, the Catholic church’s symbol for heretical Cathars; Mosse alludes to the similarity of the labeling of Jews. The historic references led me to explore more about the Cathars, their beliefs and struggle in the Rene Weis book – The Yellow Cross: The Story of the Last Cathars.
Freddie finds salvation through Fabrissa – finally able to lay aside his own torment and ghosts by exposing hers. Although the mystery is easily solved in the first 100 pages, The Winter Ghosts offers more in its historical education, if you know what you are reading.