An evocative tale of intrigue, romance, and treachery, Carol Goodman's spellbinding new novel, The Night Villa, follows the fascinating lives of two remarkable women centuries apart.
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 layers of volcanic ash lies the Villa della Notte-the Night Villa-home to first-century nobles, as well as to 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.
Praise for The Night VIlla:
"Visit The Night Villa: Carol Goodman's luminous prose and superb storytelling will keep you entertained into the late hours."
"The pleasure of a Carol Goodman novel is in her enviable command of the classical canon-and the deft way she [writes] a book that's light enough for a weekend on the beach but literary enough for a weekend in the Hamptons."
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.) Copyright Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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August 04, 2008
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Excerpt from The Night Villa by Carol Goodman
When the first call came that morning I was with a student, so I didn't answer it.
"Don't worry," I told Agnes Hancock, one of my most promising classics majors, "the machine will get it."
But it stopped after the third ring.
"I guess whoever was calling changed his mind," Agnes said, relacing her fingers to conceal the ragged cuticle on her right thumb. She'd been gnawing on it when I found her waiting outside my door--ten minutes early for my eight o'clock office hours. Most of my students were sound asleep at this hour, which was why I held my office hours so early: to discourage all but the most zealous. Agnes was definitely a zealot. She was on a scholarship, for one thing, and had to maintain a high average, but Agnes was also one of those rare students who seemed to have a genuine passion for the material. She'd gone to a high school with a rigorous Latin program and gotten the highest score on the national Latin exam in the state. Not shabby for a state as big as Texas. She wasn't just good at declensions, though; she had the ability to translate a line of ancient poetry and turn it into poetry again, and the agility of mind to compare the myths from one culture to those of another. She could have a successful academic career in classics or comparative literature. The only problem was that her personal life was often chaotic--a result, I suspected, of her looks.
Agnes was blessed with the kind of classic American beauty that you thought only existed in fashion magazines--until you saw someone like her walking down the street. Long, shiny blond hair, flawless skin, straight teeth she was born with, blue eyes--the kind of Barbie-looks I would have traded my dark hair and olive skin for when I was growing up. I couldn't complain though; the enrollment in my Latin and mythology classes had never been so high before Agnes declared her major. There were always a couple of suitors waiting outside on the quad when we emerged from Parlin Hall, but they had been replaced this year by one in particular: a wild-eyed philosophy major who pursued her relentlessly through the fall and then became so jealously possessive of her when she finally agreed to go out with him that she'd broken up with him over spring break. I hadn't seen him since then and I'd heard that he dropped out. Now I wondered if he was back. I have a feeling the torn cuticles and dark shadows under her eyes are his doing, but I'm afraid that if I ask her about it she'll burst into tears. And that won't do either of us any good. We're both due in Main Building at nine o'clock for the Classics Department's summer internship interviews. Which is why, no doubt, she'd camped out on my doorstep so early this morning.
"It was probably someone calling about the final," I say, reaching toward the phone. "I'll turn the ringer off so we won't be disturbed."
"Oh no, you don't have to do that, Dr. Chase. It wasn't anything that important . . ." She's already half out of her chair. I'd forgotten how easily spooked she gets when attention, good or bad, is directed at her. It surprised me at first because I thought that, with her looks, she'd be used to it, but I've gathered through talks we've had about her childhood that her father, a Baptist minister in a small west Texas town, preached endlessly against the sin of vanity. She seems to think it's her fault when boys fall in love with her, which has made it all the more difficult to deal with her possessive ex-boyfriend.
"Don't be silly, Agnes, I do it all the time. Believe me, they'll just e-mail me instead. My inbox will be filled with a dozen questions designed to ferret out the exact passage that'll be on the exam. Anything to avoid actually reading the whole of Metamorphoses."
"But Ovid writes so beautifully," Agnes says, her eyes widening in genuine disbelief. "Why would anyone not want to read everything he wrote? I especially love his version of the Persephone and Demeter story. I'm using it for my presentation."
I smile, not just because of the pleasure of a shared literary passion, but because my ploy has worked. At the mention of her favorite poet a calm has settled over Agnes. She's sunk back into her chair and her hands, released from the knot she'd wrung them into, fan open, loose and graceful, in her lap, like one of those paper flowers that expand in water.
"Is that what you wanted to see me about? Your proposal to Dr. Lawrence for the Papyrus Project?"
Agnes hesitates and I see her gaze stray out my second-story window toward the quad, where a few students are lounging in patches of shade cast by the live oaks. It's not yet nine, but the temperature is already in the eighties and the forecast predicts it'll break a hundred by noon. The sunlight between the trees is so bright that it's hard to make out anything but amorphous shapes in the shade. So if Agnes is checking to see if her ex-boyfriend is waiting for her, she'll be looking in vain.
"It's on the role of women in mystery rites?" I prompt. Since my specialty is women in the ancient world, I've been coaching Agnes on her proposal.
"Yes," she answers, tearing her eyes away from the window. "I plan to argue that the frescoes in the newly excavated section of the Villa della Notte, which was buried in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79, depict a mystery rite similar to the 'little mysteries' of Agrai, which combined Eleusinian and Dionysian elements."
"And can you give a brief definition of mystery rites and of those two in particular?"
"Sure. A mystery rite was a secret form of worship that revealed some kind of 'truth' or doctrine only to those initiated to the rite. They usually had something to do with the afterlife. The most famous were the Eleusinian Mysteries, which got their name because they were originally celebrated in Eleusis, Greece, and although we don't know exactly what went on because they were, well . . ."
"Yes, secret mysteries. We know they reenacted the story of Persephone and Demeter. An initiate probably relived the story of the rape of Persephone, her trip to the underworld, and then the wandering of her mother, Demeter, who killed the crops and everything growing because she was so upset at losing her daughter. While she's wandering around she comes to Eleusis, which is why the rites were there, then she goes to Zeus, who sends Hermes to bring Persephone back. Only Persephone had eaten some pomegranate seeds, so she could only spend half the year aboveground and the other half she had to spend in Hell--I mean, Hades . . ."