Wednesday, May 04, 2011

The Winter Ghosts by Kate Mosse

The Winter Ghosts by Kate Mosse
Copyright 2009
G. P. Putnam's Sons (Penguin)
Historical Fiction/Paranormal
265 pages

In his right hand, Freddie carried directions scribbled on the back
of a napkin from Bibent, where he'd lunched on filet mignon and a blowsy Bordeaux. In his left-hand breast pocket, he carried a letter patterned with antiquity and dust. It was this--and the fact that, at last, he had the opportunity to return--that brought him back to Toulouse today. The mountains where he'd come across the document had some strong significance for him, and though he had never read the letter, it was precious to him.

p. 4 of The Winter Ghosts, ARC (some changes may have been made to the final print version)

What's it about?

The Winter Ghosts is the story of Freddie, a grown man whose psyche has been wounded by parents who ignored him and the shock of devastating loss. During WWI, Freddie had a bit of a breakdown after his brother's death and he's still trying to come to terms with his loss a dozen years later. You could say he retains only a tentative grip on his sanity; at first, it seems as if he may fall apart at any moment.

The year is 1928. Seeking to resolve his feelings, Freddie travels to the Pyrenees, where he gets caught in a blizzard, has a wreck and hears the whispering of a ghost. Injured, he makes his way to a remote town in the mountains . . . and has an even more bizarre ghost experience. But, a young woman named Fabrissa leads Freddie to an important discovery that will help him recover and lead an entire village to healing and redemption.

What did Bookfool think?

Bookfool thinks you should be patient with this one. The Winter Ghosts is one of those books that I nearly abandoned because of a slow beginning and a sad wimp of a protagonist. At least, Freddie is hard to love, at first. As his background is revealed, Freddie's breakdown makes more sense. After his accident and hike into the mountains, things start to become more interesting. The pace picks up, more characters are introduced and -- although none of them are treated with much depth -- there is a sense of place that comes to the fore when he reaches the village.

Is The Winter Ghosts creepy?

I would use the words "haunting" and "atmospheric" but I didn't find this particular ghost tale creepy or frightening. The plot is even a little transparent, once you get to a certain point. Did I mind? No, by that point I actually liked the fact that I was pretty sure I knew what was going to happen and why.

I don't know that everyone would find it so predictable. I used to be absolutely terrible at figuring out plots before I reached endings, but it's really a rare author who totally catches me off-guard, these days. Sometimes I like being surprised at every turn and other times (as in the reading of Taichi Yamada's Strangers), I enjoy a slow unfolding of events because I'm swept up by craftsmanship and the overall storyline. In those cases, a certain amount of predictability doesn't hinder my enjoyment. And, I did like Kate Mosse's writing style, once I became accustomed to her pacing.

The bottom line:

Definitely recommended to the patient reader who doesn't mind a slower pace for the sake of lovely writing. Nearly two weeks after I finished reading The Winter Ghosts, it still hasn't let go of me. An atmospheric book with a well-grounded historical basis for its ghostly elements. The Winter Ghosts is slow-paced, but picks up speed, midway. The book is weakened a bit by a rather unlikable protagonist and his "redemption" is a bit rushed so I wouldn't call it the perfect novel, and yet The Winter Ghosts has somehow has managed to become a recent favorite.

If you're looking for action-packed suspense, The Winter Ghosts is not the book for you. I liked learning the history from whence the ghost story came (further description in the author's notes makes it doubly touching) and I think I'll actually enjoy the book more if I ever reread it. There was just something about it that grabbed me and held on, even after I closed the pages. I can't quite put a finger on it.

In other news:

Gah, I do not feel good, today. I'm tempted to pretend there's not a treadmill sitting beside me, but a very big part of me says, "No, no, no. You're fat." Wish that part of me would just freaking shut the heck up. I want a 24-hour nap, darn it.

What did Bookfool do, today?

First, Bookfool was rudely awakened very early by a friendly but persistent kitty who was not entirely clear about her demands. I think she was just in the mood to walk over me repeatedly and say, "Hello." Since I was up (bah, humbug to morning), I ran some errands and then walked around downtown Vicksburg to take flood pics. We went to the dock on Sunday. Here's the dock wall, where you can see marks describing various past flooding events, as taken on Sunday:

Oh, so hard to see! The bottom mark says "1961 Gage 44.9." Below that is a sign referring to the Corps of Engineers, the folks who are responsible for tracking such things. The Corps sign is visible under normal circumstances. As of 3 hours ago, the water level was at 48 feet and rising at a steady pace (between the second and third marks up from the water line). See the top mark? That's the level the water would have reached during the Great Flood of 1927 if the levees had held (62.2 feet) -- but they didn't, so the next mark down (56.2) is the actual flood level. The river is expected to crest above the actual 1927 flood level. I've heard 57, 58 and somewhere in between. Either way, it's a horror.

Around our area, this is huge. An entire school has been closed, Civil War artifacts are being moved to high ground, Red Cross shelters have been opened. You can't get to the dock, now. This is what I saw, today:

Those fellows to the right are Americorps volunteers. They were waiting for some equipment; they didn't sit around for long. You can see there's a little water outside the dock exit. The dock does occasionally get swamped but during the 2008 flood, they had few enough timbers that you could actually walk fairly close to the entrance and exit and look over timbers to see the flood water. Here's a wider view. I didn't reduce the size of this one, so hopefully you'll be able to click on it to enlarge. If you ever come to Vicksburg, the flood wall is worth seeing. It's taken many years to decorate, but all of the panels are now painted with murals, each of which portray some event in Vicksburg's history.

To the left of the red train station building and caboose, an additional barricade is being built. That means that gorgeous old railroad station (which is being turned into a museum) is going to be swamped. I imagine it'll survive but cost a pretty penny to clean up. In the background, you can also get a glimpse of the trees that are already partly under water. You can usually see the sandy opposite shore. I think, actually, this isn't really even the Mississippi River but the Yazoo Diversion Canal. Oh, wow. I'm going to have to run to the overlook to snap some bridge pictures. I'd forgotten about that -- must get pics of the actual Mississippi. It's fascinating watching the river rise, but horrifying to realize how many people this flood has already hit and will impact in the coming weeks.

Anyway, enough for one day. Tomorrow, The Peach Keeper!! Saturday, the world! Or, maybe a nap. Nighty night!

©2011 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery and Babble or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.


  1. Hang in there!! I'm watching it all and being amazed at the might and power of that running river. We're thinking of those who have suffered so mightily these last two weeks.

    Sending good thoughts!
    Thanks for sharing. I needed that.

  2. Inside A Book,

    I guess this is what I get for not having satellite or cable service -- apart from local news, I'm not seeing anything at all about the flooding! Is internet news biased? It's still all Osama-Obama. Weird. It is truly an epic flood and you have to feel for those who are going through it and about to. At least down here, people do have some time to prepare! It won't touch us at all. We're nowhere near the river, thank goodness. Send your thoughts to the flood victims and volunteers. The flood is, for me, just another reminder that I need to take the Red Cross course for disaster volunteers. We have refugees flocking to our church at least once a year, on average.

  3. My sister loved Winter Ghosts.

    I hope they're able to contain the river - flooding is so scary.

  4. This book sounds interesting, but I am not sure if I would be able to deal with such a slow beginning. Often, I find that the books that have slow beginnings and redeem themselves become some of my favorite reads, but it does take some steam to get going with them. I think I am going to have to take a closer look at this one. It might be something I'd enjoy. Thanks!

  5. Kathy,

    I think you might find the pacing a little frustrating, since you've mentioned that you prefer a fast-paced book, but I can't stop thinking about The Winter Ghosts. I loved it!

    There's no way to totally conttain the flooding. The best they can do is try to minimize the damage and in certain areas. It is truly epic. Yeah, flooding is definitely scary. We've been flooded. Water ruins absolutely everything.


    You really do have to be patient, but it's worth the time. I'm glad I stuck it out. I would have missed out on a fascinating piece of history if I'd given up on The Winter Ghosts!

  6. I read Kate Mosse's first book in this loosely connected trilogy, but haven't yet managed to read the next two.

    So scary hearing about flooding, especially in light of the terrible flooding we had in several parts of Australia this year.

    I probably knew (but at 6am had forgotten) that you lived in such a historic place!

  7. Marg,

    I didn't know The Winter Ghosts was related to her other books! Cool! I've got the first book. Labyrinth? Don't know why I haven't gotten to it, yet.

    Oh, heavens, I'd forgotten about the flooding in Australia, already. It's been quite a year for disasters, hasn't it? Flooding is awful because it ruins absolutely everything.

    Yep, we're in Civil War territory. Vicksburg has a military park and the artifacts I mentioned that were being moved were in Grand Gulf, about an hour's drive south of us. It's quite an interesting area, really.


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