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Winter Ghosts, by Kate Mosse, Orion RRP£7.99, 304 pages
A decade after losing his brother in the first world war, mournful Freddie Watson is motoring around rural France when he crashes his car in a snowstorm. Recuperating, Freddie is taken to the local Fête de St Etienne by the beguiling but ethereal Fabrissa, quite unaware that he has slipped back 600 years to a similar festival when the village was routed during the Catholic onslaught against Cathars.
We’ve been here before, even if Freddie hasn’t. This mystic time-travel is the same plot device that underpinned Mosse’s two previous bestsellers, Labyrinth and Sepulchre, whose rich characterisation and well-researched historical complexity gave those books a depth that is missing in Winter Ghosts. Freddie is a wholly unsympathetic character, sentimental and self-involved, while the historical envelope is smudged and indistinct. Is Fabrissa a ghost? Is the escapade all in Freddie’s febrile head? Winter Ghosts is but a shade of its predecessors.