Book: The Night Villa
Author: Carol Goodman
Summary: The eruption of Italy's Mount Vesuvius in A.D. 79 buried a city and its people, their treasures and secrets. Centuries later, echoes of this disaster resonate with profound consequences in the life of classics professor Sophie Chase. In the aftermath of a tragic shooting on the University of Texas campus, Sophie seeks sanctuary on the isle of Capri, immersing herself in her latest scholarly project alongside her colleagues, her star pupil, and their benefactor, the compelling yet enigmatic business mogul John Lyros. Beneath the layers of volcanic ash lies the Villa della Notte - the Night Villa - home to first-century nobles, as well as the captivating slave girl at the heart of an ancient controversy. And secreted in a subterranean labyrinth rests a cache of antique documents believed lost to the ages: a prize too tantalizing for Sophie to resist. But suspicion, fear, and danger roam the long-untrodden tunnels and chambers beneath the once sumptuous estate - especially after Sophie sees the face of her former lover in the darkness, leaving her to wonder if she is chasing shadows or succumbing to the siren song of the Night Villa. Whatever shocking events transpired in the face of Vesuvius's fury have led to deeper, darker machinations that inexorably draw Sophie into their vortex, rich in stunning revelations and laden with unseen menace. -Ballantine Books, 2008.
Carol Goodman still has yet to completely disappoint me. While I wouldn't exactly rave about this novel, it still has all of the classic elements that a Carol Goodman story contains. I have to say though, I'm surprised that this one isn't one of her first novels. I know she is very well versed in the Classics, but it seemed like she struggled a little with this one. It didn't suck me in right away, but once it did, I was with the plot one hundred percent.
As always, spoilers will be kept to a minimum.
Sophie Chase is planning on spending her summer finishing up a book on a famous slave in ancient Rome, but after a shooting by the spurned lover of her star pupil, she agrees to be the translator on a project in Capri. This project seeks to recover the lost scrolls of an ancient traveler who collected and transcribed ancient rituals and religions. He was assumed to have been killed when Mount Vesuvius erupted, but the finding of his last journal seems to imply otherwise. It also mentions the slave girl that Sophie was writing about, adding an additional layer of interest to the project. As Sophie tries with the rest of the team to figure out what happened, she discovers that the modern day version of an ancient cult also has an interest in the traveler's writings and the secrets they may contain; especially once it's implied that the traveler might have a scroll containing the writings of the cult's founder. Sophie has to make sure that the history and secrets within ancient history are preserved and protected while the actions of the cult are thwarted.
The plot summary is what you get - there's not too many side plots and there's nothing that detracts from the main plot itself. You get to know Sophie and her relationships with the important men in her life - both are her ex-lovers and while I wouldn't say there is a love triangle by any stretch (Goodman tells write romance much more in a subtle, slow burn style), there's hints of it. Sophie is flawed and human as much as the secondary characters are, which I always appreciate in a novel. The reader isn't encouraged to sympathize with her, though I would argue that her life is sympathetic. You want to see where she goes and what choices she makes after reflecting on the mistakes she made earlier in life.
The description of the locations is perfect, as always. I really felt like I was in Texas and Capri whenever Sophie was there. Goodman really has a talent with providing location descriptions that are lifelike and transport the reader to that location.
While this novel wasn't quite as suspenseful or mysterious (I think it might actually be shorter than her other novels), it was still enjoyable and I learned a lot about ancient Roman cultures.
I highly recommend this book and I think it's a good learning experience as well.
I give The Night Villa an A.
Please support the author by buying the book or by borrowing it from a friend or your local library.
Thanks for reading!