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The Winter Ghosts starts in April 1933, with a man called Freddie. He is off the meet the owner of a bookshop in the hope that he can decipher a letter that he has on his person. The shopkeeper is amazed at the letter and promptly asks where he had come across such a thing. The story that Freddie tells of how it came into his possesion is the main body of the book.
The story is quite a simple one. Freddie is off to visit some friends in France and is driving round the hills, when an unexpected blizzard happens and forces his car off the road and into a bolder. With no where else to go, Freddie makes his way into the village to find help but on doing so, hears voices in the hills and through the trees.
He decides to stay the night as there is no one around to fix his car until the morning. On his short time in the village some very mysterious happenings occur which leads Freddie to discover some long forgotten history and, in turn, stumbles across the letter.
This book was originally published under the title ‘The Cave’ which was a novella (short story) aimed at adult emergent readers. On reading the book you can understand why. It very clearly has a beginning, middle and an end which was probably how you were taught to write stories at school. The beginning is when Freddie goes to visit the shop keeper, the middle is his story about his time in France, and the end goes back to the shopkeeper so you find out what the letter actually said.
Kate Mosse has published, among others, Labyrinth and Sepulchre, both of which I have read and really enjoyed. I felt that The Winter Ghosts was quite a flat story in comparison to these. In both Labyrinth and Sepulchre there are 2 different time zones, one in the past and one in the present and they alternate between the two.
However, in this book there is no real time shift. The beginning and the end are in 1933 whereas the main body of the story is set in 1928. It is just a straightforward story laying down the facts as they happened.
Having said this though, the story is still expertly written. What I love about Kate’s books is the history that surrounds them and she must spend so much time researching past events and the places that she writes about. The back says that she lives in both Chichester and Carcasonne, which is where her stories are based, so she must have a good local knowledge. However, to write about a place eighty years ago and to describe it so well must still be quite hard.
I also found that the story was quite topical. Freddie had lost his brother in the war and there were many parts where he described his feelings when George had gone. His parents disowned him as he wasn’t the son they wished for, and Freddie found he couldn’t put George’s death behind him because there was no body to be buried, just a memorial in the village. I think quite a few people, especially recently, could sympathise with Freddie’s feelings, even the war heroes themselves.
What I also liked in this book was that there were little pictures as well, which you don’t normally find in adult books. They were only black and white line drawings but they were of places that had been described, such as the village Freddie stayed in and the room he had, and the caves he went exploring in.
There are also lots of little extras that come with the book. It is currently only published in hardback, and the inside cover is a colour map of the region in France which it is set. There is also a smaller black and white map a few pages in that shows the exact location, even though you find out at the end that the actual place – Nulle, was created by Kate and doesn’t actually exist.
There is also a little bit of extra history at the end which gives more details as to what happened in the 1300’s, which are the events that the whole story is based on. Also, if you buy the book from Waterstones, as I did, then there is an extra short story at the end. It is only a few pages long, but it does bear reference to the main story and is quite clever, but you will have to read it for yourself.
I really enjoyed this book and finished it in record time. The only problem I have is that it was too short! It is the perfect book to curl up with in front of the fire on a cold winter’s night.