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The Night Villa by Carol Goodman

It's the number sequence that's clued me in: 3-4-5, the simplest representation of the Pythagorean theorem. Ely was obsessed with it. He heard it in the cawing of the grackles outside our Hyde Park bungalow and claimed the traffic lights on Guadalupe were timed to it.

from page 12, The Night Villa

The Night Villa is Carol Goodman's latest novel. This one, like its predecessor, The Sonnet Lover, begins in the U.S. before moving the action to Italy.

Dr. Sophie Chase, a classics professor at the University of Texas, is working on a book about a first century Roman slave woman named Iusta who essentially took her masters to court to sue for her freedom. Iusta's fate--both the outcome of her court case and her life--is vague as she disappears from the historical record when her village, Herculaneum, is buried by fallout from the eruption of nearby Mt. Vesuvius in 79 A.D. The eruption buried the entire town and many of its inhabitants, preserving them in volcanic ash until they are unearthed by archaeologists a couple thousand years later.

Dr. Chase is invited to work on a project over the summer in which she will participate in the scanning and translating of newly discovered papyrus scrolls from the excavated Roman villa where Iusta once lived as a slave. The scrolls may shed light on Iusta's fate as well as the fate of a rare scroll purportedly written by Pythagoras. Soon it appears that a sinister cult from back home--that may have ties to the disturbed student who shot up a UT conference room and killed two of Dr. Chase's colleagues and that follows Pythagorean teachings-- also has an interest in acquiring the rare scroll by any means necessary.

Twists and betrayals accompany this historical mystery buried for thousands of years under hundreds of feet of ash and dirt. This latest novel differs slightly from Goodman's previous works. Besides difference in settings--most of her previous novels take place in New York, even The Sonnet Lover begins at a NYC college before the setting shifts to Italy--the contemporary murder mystery doesn't play a large role in relation to the historical mystery. This isn't a big deal since the historical aspect of Goodman's story is by far the most intriguing. One thing I wish Goodman would work on is developing her minor characters rather than focusing all development on the narrator/main character. Underdevelopment of characters can largely detract from the story especially if a minor character comes out of nowhere to be revealed as the 'bad guy' in the story's resolution. I'm not sure if this is so much a problem in her earlier works or if its just that having read all of her fictional works, I'm now picking up on other elements of her writing.

Overall this is a satisfying read. I recommend it if you are a Carol Goodman fan. You won't regret checking it out and you might even have a hard time putting it down. This novel is available at Matthews Public Library upstairs in adult fiction.

--Reviewed by Ms. Angie


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