March 1928. Frederick Smith is on a motoring holiday in the mountains of south west France. He is caught in a violent storm and his car crashes. He is forced to seek shelter in a boarding house in the nearby village of Axat. There is only one other guest in the tiny hotel, a pale and beautiful young woman called Marie. As the storm rages outside, she explains how the region was ripped apart by wars of religion in the 14th century. She tells how, one terrible night in March 1328, all the inhabitants of Axat were forced to flee from the soldiers into the mountains. The villagers took refuge in a cave, but when the fighting was over, no one came back. Their bodies were never found. Axat itself became a ghost town. When Fred wakes the following morning, Marie has gone. Worse still, his car will take several days to repair and he has to stay at the boarding house for a few days more. To pass the time, he explores the mountains. Then he realises it is almost 600 years to the day since the villagers disappeared. He decides to go and look for the cave himself. Perhaps, he thinks, he might even find Marie? It is a decision he will live to regret.
At just under 100 pages, this little gem of a novella lives up to its Quick Read origins very well – you can easily read it in your lunch hour and it would certainly entertain you admirably well through that time, so it’s probably just as well it’s short or you might forget to go back to work!
It’s very predictable, especially to those who have already read Labyrinth, and as the reader you are constantly several steps ahead of the protagonist, but it doesn’t matter – events unfils exactly as one hopes they will. The Cave reads like a classic ghost story, but that isn’t a bad thing, as setting even the “modern” part of the story a little in the past gives it a slightly more mysterious air and actually adds to its appeal.
Definitely one for fans of Kate Mosse, historical fiction, traditional ghost stories and France – The Cave has it all covered within 97 pages of delightful prose that quickly gets into the action and carries the reader along smoothly and swiftly to the perfect conclusion.
Reviewed by Kell Smurthwaite