"Labyrinth" author explores mystery of Cathar caves

Fri Oct 16, 2009 6:11am EDT
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By Sophie Hardach

PARIS (Reuters Life!) - Best-selling British author Kate Mosse returns to the secretive Cathar sect of medieval France with a new novel, four years after she first explored their fate in her historical adventure "Labyrinth."

Mixing religious intrigue and modern-day mystery, her sprawling tales have often been compared to Dan Brown's. In another parallel, they have boosted tourism to the French towns where they are set, earning Mosse a post as cultural ambassador.

Set partly in Europe after the First World War, partly in the Middle Ages, "The Winter Ghosts" tells the eerie story of a bereaved young man who travels to the south-western French town of Tarascon-sur-Ariege in the foothills of the Pyrenees.

"I've always felt there was a story waiting for Tarascon," Mosse said of the mountain town she has been visiting for the past 20 years. "We went there in January and I suddenly thought, oh I see, it's a town that needs a winter story."

The link with World War One came to her when her teenage children studied the subject at school.

"It set me thinking about what it would have been like to be a young man who had been too young to fight, who felt that he lived in the shadow of this terrible thing but was not allowed to grieve because everybody was in the same boat," she said in a phone interview from her home in Sussex.

Set initially in 1928, "The Winter Ghosts" follows the story of Freddie Watson, a young man whose beloved older brother was killed in World War One. On a trip to France, he encounters an enigmatic girl and a hidden cave that reveal another tale of grief and remembrance: the Catholic Church's brutal prosecution of the Cathars, a medieval Christian sect accused of heresy.

Unlike other works by Mosse, who co-founded the Orange Prize for fiction, the book is short and the cast of characters small.   Continued...