Carol Goodman

"The Night Villa"

(Reviewed by Lori Lamothe DEC 11, 2008)

Carol Goodman’s latest book, The Night Villa, is an academic mystery that offers a satisfying dose of escapism mixed with just enough historical detail to provide a guilt-free reading binge. Set on the island of Capri, the novel is really a story within a story: one that centers on Sophie Chase, classics professor at the University of Texas, and a second about the subject of her dissertation, Petronia Iusta, a Roman slave girl who lived in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius in the days before it erupted. Like The Da Vinci Code, Goodman’s novel is perhaps most appealing for its ability to superimpose the typical thriller onto a vivid backdrop of history and myth. Readers who have a penchant for secret mystery cults, lost manuscripts and ancient prophecies (and I must admit I’m one of them) will find these things in abundance in The Night Villa.

The novel begins with a shooting that leaves two of Sophie’s colleagues dead and results in an injury which punctures her lung. In the aftermath of the tragedy Sophie barely has the energy to mow her lawn or respond to student emails, nevermind fly to Italy to solve a centuries-old mystery. But when her former lover Elgin Lawrence turns up at her doorstep to reveal that newly discovered papyrus scrolls may contain information about Iusta, Sophie can’t refuse his offer. She soon finds herself a guest at a replica of Villa della Notte on Capri, along with a cast of characters that includes the slightly pompous Elgin, Sophie’s star pupil Agnes and the mysterious software billionaire John Lyros. The real Villa della Notte lies nearby on the mainland, buried under layers of volcanic ash, and as excavators uncover frescoes that can only be described as x-rated it becomes clear that some very strange events occurred at Iusta’s place of residence.

Lyros’s obsession with the villa lead him to recreate it and to install a state-of-the-art lab that uses spectrographic imagery to decipher the charred scrolls discovered there. As computers bring the past into focus, Sophie, Lyros, Elgin and Agnes are increasingly caught up in Iusta’s story. Perhaps even more importantly, the scrolls lead them to believe that Pythagorus’s lost Golden Verses may still be hidden in the subterranean labyrinth that lies beneath the real villa. Unfortunately, Sophie and her cohorts aren’t the only ones interested in the verses. Members of the Tetraktys cult, one of whom is Sophie’s ex-fiance, also want to obtain the document. Inevitably, this clash leads to danger, murder and even romance.

Though the plot can be a bit slow paced at times, especially in the early chapters, Sophie’s appeal as a narrator makes up for this deficiency. The other characters are less well developed, but Elgin has a certain appeal as the professor who tries (a little) to ward off the bevy of acolytes he can’t help but attract. Odette, the woman killed in the shooting, is a kind of regal-downhome priestess of the ghostly, appearing at key moments in either an orange headdress or a bathrobe embroidered with coffee cups and muffins. As the for the identity of the villain, I must confess it didn’t come as a complete shock. Regardless of these flaws, I enjoyed the book and spent more than one late night immersed in Goodman’s tale.

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Read a chapter excerpt from The Night Villa at author's website

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About the Author:

Carol GoodmanCarol Goodman grew up on Long Island, attended public school, and started writing at age nine, when her fourth grade teacher introduced the topic “Creative Writing.” She wrote a ninety-page, crayon-illustrated epic entitled “The Adventures of the Magical Herd” in which a girl named Carol lives with a herd of magical horses. She knew from that moment that she wanted to be a writer.

She majored in Latin at Vassar College and after college, she worked in publishing and then a series of less demanding office jobs while writing short stories at night. She then attended the University of Texas at Austin to earn a Master Degree in teaching. She taught Latin for three years in the Austin Independent School District until her daughter Maggie was born.

A few years (and two unpublished novels) later, Goodman moved back to Long Island. She started writing poetry and short stories again and completed her MFA at The New School. Her poems and short stories have been published in The Greensboro Review, Literal Latte, Midwest Quarterly, New York Quarterly and Other Voices. A year after she finished her MFA, Goodman picked up a short story she had written about a Latin teacher at a boarding school in upstate New York (called “Girl, Declined”) and started to write her bestselling and critically acclaimed debut novel, The Lake of Dead Languages.

Since its publication, Goodman has been writing full time and teaching at The New School. Goodman’s books have been nominated for the IMPAC award twice, the Simon & Schuster/Mary Higgins Clark award, and the Nero Wolfe Award; The Seduction of Water won the Hammett Prize in 2003.

She lives on Long Island, with her husband, poet/hedge fund manager Lee Slonimsky, her stepdaughter, Nora, her daughter, Maggie. About Us | Subscribe | Review Team | History | ©1998-2014