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The Night Villa: A Novel Paperback – August 5, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this complex and lyrical literary thriller from Goodman (The Sonnet Lover), University of Texas classics professor Sophie Chase, after barely surviving a gunman with ties to a sinister cult, joins an expedition to Capri. A donor has funded both the exact reconstruction of a Roman villa destroyed when Mount Vesuvius buried nearby Herculaneum in A.D. 79, and a computer system that can decipher the charred scrolls being excavated from the villa's ruins. Sophie's hopes for a recuperative idyll fade after her old boyfriend, who disappeared years before into the same cult as the campus gunman, appears in the area, implicating the cult in a criminal conspiracy. Meanwhile, extracts from the scrolls—the journals of a Roman visiting the villa just before the volcano erupted—shade toward bloodshed and betrayal. The scrolls' oddly modern tone aside, Goodman deftly mixes cultural and religious history, geography, myth, personal memory, dream and even portent without sacrificing narrative drive, against the beautiful backdrop of the locale with its echoes of unimaginable loss. 5-city author tour.(Sept.)
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From Booklist

Goodman has made a name for herself writing elegant literary thrillers. Her newest follows the template of The Sonnet Lover (2007), as Sophie Chase, a classics professor at the University of Texas, researches the fate of Petronia Iusta, a slave girl living in Capri in AD 79, the year Vesuvius erupted. After the boyfriend of one her students goes on a shooting rampage, leaving two dead and Sophie wounded, the handsome but rakish professor Elgin Lawrence convinces Sophie to travel to Capri to translate the scrolls of a Roman writer named Phineas Aulus. After all, evidence suggests that Petronia was at the Villa della Notte at the same time as Phineas. Upon arriving, she is soon drawn into a dangerous conspiracy when she encounters an ex-lover and learns that the Tetraktyans, a cult that worships Pythagoras, are equally interested in the scrolls—and will stop at nothing to get them. Graceful, fluid prose; an intricately plotted dual mystery set in the past and present; a strong heroine; and handsome and mysterious men—all combine to make for a thoroughly scintillating read. --Kristine Huntley

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 413 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books (August 5, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345479602
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345479600
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.9 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #119,536 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Carol Goodman graduated from Vassar College, where she majored in Latin. After teaching Latin for several years, she studied for an MFA in Fiction. Her writing has been published in a number of literary magazines. She currently teaches writing and works as a writer-in-residence. She lives in Long Island, USA.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

24 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Bookreporter on August 18, 2008
Format: Paperback
THE NIGHT VILLA, award-winning author Carol Goodman's sixth novel, begins with a tragic shooting on the campus of the University of Texas in Austin. It involves the jealous ex-boyfriend of student Agnes Hancock, who opens fire on a classroom filled with students and teachers, and ends up taking two lives before turning the gun on himself. Injured in the attack is Dr. Sophie Chase, who bravely attempted to thwart shooter Dale Henry and ends up being shot in the chest, causing serious damage to her lungs.

In the aftermath of this tragedy, Dr. Elgin Lawrence puts together a team of experts (archaeologists, historians, theologians and a student) to travel to Italy as part of a project sponsored by a philanthropic billionaire. Dubbed the Papyrus Project, it revolves around the use of new spectrograph technology that allows ancient scrolls to be scanned and interpreted. The texts in question are located in the Villa della Notte --- the Night Villa --- and had been buried under centuries of ash and debris following the devastating eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in A.D. 79.

The narrator, and main focus, of THE NIGHT VILLA is Dr. Sophie Chase, and her reason for participating in the excavation is not just to escape the tragic campus shooting. Sophie also leaves behind the memory of her former lover, Ely Markowitz, who she has lost to his obsession with the Tetraktys, a cult that worships and follows the teaching of Pythagoras. The ritual of becoming a full-fledged Tetrakty consists of immersion at one of their communes and a five-year vow of total silence with no communication to the outside world. With Ely all but lost to Sophie forever, she has renewed interest in joining the Papyrus Project.
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22 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Redaurella on March 2, 2009
Format: Paperback
The first mystery about this novel is why the heroine is called Cory Chase on the back cover but Sophie Chase in the book. ( A late change of name? I bought my copy in Australia). The second is why Carol Goodman has lost her mojo.

I enjoyed Goodman's earlier novels which were set in the American Gothic genre similar to that of Donna Tartt (if not as morally complex). They created detailed imaginary worlds which were just real enough to be believable and the characters were engaging and at times moving. The Ghost Orchid and the Drowning Tree were particularly outstanding. But Goodman seems to have been seduced by the Chick-lit/Summer in Provence school of writing and has abandoned what she knows for fanciful, annoying stories set in idyllic Italian settings. The Sonnet Lover with its Italian lover, shopping trips, and travelogue style writing was plain depressing. In this story many of the elements are similar - academic with tragic love story seizes opportunity to go to Italy and solves historical mystery - but it is even weaker.

It is hard to believe that Goodman taught the classics as she makes historical errors and almost laughable assumptions about archaeology in Pompeii which will frustrate readers who are actually intersted in Pompeii's history. This could be forgiven if the story was enthralling but sadly it isn't. It has the feeling of a book written in a hurry to meet a contractual obligation.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Armchair Interviews on August 7, 2008
Format: Paperback
Prolific writer, Carol Goodman, has created another exciting page-turner in The Night Villa. The villa of the novel is located in the Italian (Roman) village of Herculaneum that was destroyed in 79 A.D. by the same volcanic eruption of Mt. Vesuvius that buried the city of Pompeii. In the novel, Classics scholar Professor Sophie Chase is recruited as a member of an expedition to help translate ancient Greek and/or Latin scrolls that have been found at an archeological site-the Night Villa which is named for a statue of a night goddess that was found there.

Since this book encompasses ancient history, there are many references to the historical eruption of the volcano and what happened because of it. The scrolls were written by a traveler who visits the villa in his quest to study various pagan religious rites and celebrations. At least that is what the scholars initially believe. However, it seems he was also interested in a philosophy that the ancient mathematician, Pythagoras developed. There are also some fairly graphic descriptions of erotic artwork and unusual sexual practices and rites.

The Night Villa is also a romantic thriller. Therefore it is not surprising that the heroine, Sophie, has romantic history with other characters-both the good guys and the bad. There is also a subplot romance involving an ancient slave girl and the traveler. The slave girl had been the subject of Sophie's doctoral thesis and remained a point of strong interest. The liaisons between various members of the study expedition add to the intrigue that develops from the very first chapter of the book.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I could hardly put it down to deal with more mundane activities, like work or sleeping. Its literary style would make it an excellent book club choice.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on August 19, 2010
Format: Paperback
I kept thinking this book would get better. But from the beginning I couldn't connect with any of the major characters. Most of them are so shifty, are they good, are they bad? They change from page to page, chapter to chapter. So at the end I didn't care for any of the good ones or the bad ones. Including Dr Chase, who for such a bright scholar, seems like a dimwit when it comes to knowing those around her. I would suggest she never makes any friends again. The thing that I really liked about this book were the descriptions of the little towns around Naples, and some of the historical references. I read it pretty fast because I thought the mystery would get better, but it really was anticlimactic.
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