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Night Villa

Night Villa

4.2 31
by Carol Goodman

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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


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.”
–Nancy Pickard

“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.”
–Chicago Tribune

Editorial Reviews

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.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

Goodman (The Sonnet Lover) returns with her darkest, most complex novel to date. Classics professor Sophie Chase is trying to deal with the breakdown of both her marriage and her husband, who joined a cultlike group and disappeared. Her attempts to battle her inner demons while trying to be supportive of an intellectually promising but emotionally needy student fail when the student's estranged boyfriend arrives on campus with a gun. In the aftermath of the shooting spree, Chase takes advantage of a research opportunity in Italy, even though the lead professor is an old flame. Goodman always seamlessly blends present-day suspense with a mystery from the past, which here involves ancient papyrus scrolls, buried in the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 C.E., that someone does not want restored. Goodman mixes literary prose with a page-turning plot, making her work appealing to a broad range of readers. Highly recommended for all fiction collections.
—Beth Lindsay

Kirkus Reviews
On the Isle of Capri, classical scholars compete against cult members searching for a long-lost Pythagorean manuscript in the latest from Goodman (The Sonnet Lover, 2007, etc.), who specializes in mysteries polished with a patina of highbrow culture. Classics professor Sophie Chase is attending a department meeting at the University of Texas when the crazed boyfriend of her prized student Agnes, a beautiful small-town innocent, comes in shooting. The department secretary and a professor die. The meeting concerned a trip to Capri being organized by Sophie's former mentor, and lover, Elgin, to research an important manuscript recently discovered in a house under excavation. Soon Sophie, at Elgin's prodding, takes the place of her dead colleague on the expedition. In Italy, as first-century historian Phineas Aulus's unbelievably detailed diary is translated daily for the researchers, readers are treated to a sordid story of sexual/religious rites in the days before the Vesuvius eruption. Meanwhile Elgin (whose sister was lost to a cult) warns Sophie that the FBI has informed him that someone from the Tetraktys, a creepy, possibly violent cult of devotees to the teachings of Pythagoras, has infiltrated the research team. Sophie has connections to Tetraktys. Her great love Ely disappeared into the Tetraktys compound years ago, although she blames her affair with Elgin as much as the cult for their breakup. Sophie doesn't completely trust Elgin, whom she assumes is dallying with Agnes, and finds herself attracted to her wealthy host, who's funding the project. When Agnes and Simon, another researcher, are trapped in the excavated tunnels, Agnes barely escapes with her own life. Simon dies inthe hospital. Then Ely shows up claiming he has left the cult and with warnings of his own for Sophie. Whom can she trust? Readers will decipher the answer early on. For a professor, Sophie is slow on the uptake. The ancient diary is marginally more entertaining than the contemporary romantic mystery, which is neither very romantic nor mysterious.

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Random House Publishing Group
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5.10(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.00(d)

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

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 . . .”

Agnes blushes at her slip, and I save her by nudging her on to the next topic. “What about the Dionysian rites?”

“We think they reenacted the story of Dionysus Zagreus, a variant of the wine god myth. In this version Dionysus is the son of Zeus and Persephone . . .”

Agnes notices me lifting an eyebrow and a little light of understanding dawns in her face, “Oh, I hadn’t thought of that before! Persephone’s a link between the two myths! Anyway, Hera, jealous of her husband’s illegitimate child, gets the Titans to eat the baby”—here Agnes makes a face and mock shudders—“but Athene rescues the heart and brings it to Zeus, who eats it and proceeds to have another affair—this time with Semele, who gives birth to a new Dionysus. In the rites, a group of women, called maenads, become intoxicated with wine and reenact the dismemberment and consumption of the god—”


“Oh no—at least we hope not! I mean there is that play by Euripides where Agave, the queen of Thebes, and her women are so frenzied they tear apart Agave’s own son, Pentheus, but probably they just tore apart bread meant to represent the god and drank some more wine. Of course, if you believe Livy, the rites turned into this big sex orgy, but I think that was just prejudice because the rites were popular with women and took place at night. Anyway . . .”

As Agnes goes on to describe the Dionysian elements in the frescoes in Herculaneum, such as the presence of the traditional basket (liknon) and wand (thrysus), I wonder, not for the first time, at a Baptist minister’s daughter choosing to study pagan religions. But then, casting off the family religion was no alien concept to me, and I suppose studying Dionysian orgies and blood sacrifices was as harmless an act of rebellion as the piercings and tattoos sported by her contemporaries. Still, her passion for the subject is a little unsettling. Describing the frenzy of the maenads she begins to look like one herself, her cheeks pinking, her blue eyes flashing, and her hair coming loose from its ponytail. She comes abruptly back to herself when she notices, as I do, that another call is coming in on my phone. The light flashes four times and then stops. My caller has apparently gotten slightly more determined to reach me.

“Excellent,” I say. “And now tell me why you have to go to Italy to study these frescoes?”

“Well,” Agnes says, taking a deep gulp of air and refastening her ponytail, “for one thing, the newly excavated frescoes haven’t been photographed yet, but, most important, they’ve also found charred papyrus rolls in the villa. The little taggie things on them—”

“Sillyboi,” I suggest, providing the Greek term for the tags that ancient librarians used to identify papyrus rolls.

“Um, yeah.” She giggles nervously. “I guess I should use the Greek name, but it always makes me laugh . . . The sillyboi indicate that the library of the villa was dedicated to foreign religions—there are books on Mithraism, Isis worship, the cult of Cybele, Orphism, Pythagoreans—so why wouldn’t there be one that described the little mysteries that went on right there? And while at one time we wouldn’t have been able to read these scrolls because they were all burned on the outside when Vesuvius erupted, Dr. Lawrence is going to use multispectral imaging to see inside them . . . which I think is just so cool. I really think Dr. Lawrence is a genius, don’t you?”

Not Agnes, too. She hasn’t gotten caught in his web, has she? Elgin Lawrence has a history of seducing his teaching assistants, and Agnes is just his type—and not just because she’s beautiful. He preys on young girls who are insecure. Agnes’s father might have thought he was doing her a favor by scourging her of vanity, but he would have done better to instill a sense of self-worth in his daughter.

I open my mouth to form some sort of polite but qualified response to Elgin Lawrence’s claims to genius, but I am spared such shameless equivocation by the appearance at the door of Barry Biddle, Elgin’s grant partner on the Papyrus Project.

Meet the Author

Carol Goodman is the author of The Night Villa and The Lake of Dead Languages. Her work has appeared in such journals as The Greensboro Review, Literal Latté, The Midwest Quarterly, and Other Voices. After graduation from Vassar College, where she majored in Latin, she taught Latin for several years in Austin, Texas. She then received an M.F.A. in fiction from the New School University. Goodman currently teaches writing and works as a writer-in-residence for Teachers & Writers. She lives on Long Island.

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Night Villa 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 31 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
University of Texas Classics Professor Dr. Sophie Chase knows she is fortunate to be alive when cultist Dale Henry, ex boyfriend of promising classics student Agnes Hancock, starts firing a gun at those attending an interview. Although shook up, Sophie joins a special reenactment in Capri. John Lyros is sponsoring the rebuilding of an exact replica of a Herculaneum villa and will use an information technology program to interpret the burnt scrolls that somewhat have been salvaged from the volcanic ruins.------------ However, Sophie¿s Italian dig turns sinister when her former boyfriend Ely, who vanished five years ago apparently into the same cult as Dale joined, sends her a message by returning a book he borrowed from her. Meanwhile a scroll found amidst the ruins written by a visiting Roman insists the NIGHT VILLA was a place for blood, sex and duplicity. In the labyrinth below the city, Sophie will find much of the same as what happened to a free woman in 79 AD.------------ This is an engaging academic thriller with a delightful link between modern day archaeology and the Ancient World mostly through the scrolls. Sophie is a terrific lead player holding together the two prime parts of the novel while she and her cohorts dig into the past at the same time struggling to survive the present. Fans will enjoy Carole Goodman¿s fine tale and seek her previous literary mystery, (THE SONNET LOVER.-------- Harriet Klausner
Bethie More than 1 year ago
This book reminded me more of her older books that I absolutely loved reading. I think her last few before this one were not as detailed and intricate as the plot in this one. It was truly a great book.
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Save your $$$$. She goes on and on and on. I think she does like to show you how much she knows about this subject and gets lost in it. The story itself could have been told in less than 100 pages....enough said?
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Jean Weidlich More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this book. It reminded me of her older works, the ones I couldn't put down. I've been disappointed with a few of her more recent endeavors, but I'm glad I decided to give it another go. This book did exactly what I wanted it to do; entertained me, captivated me, taught me, and got me inteterested in something new. It's truly been a pleasure to be with this talented writer as she has evolved. I look forward to continuing with her on her journey.
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I-Heart-Books-4-ever More than 1 year ago
"Night Villa" by Carol Goodman was a beautifully well written book. The cover is what caught my eye when parousing the book store, but once you start reading its hard to put down. Its loaded with suspense, hinted with romance, a bit of a thriller. "Night Villa" draws you into to a wirl-wind of excitement and captivates the imagination. I loved this book, recommending it to everyone in my family and several of my friends.
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katknit More than 1 year ago
Carol Goodman's mysteries share two common elements: her protagonists are accomplished, American, female academics, usually in literature, who are drawn into complex projects in which a hidden conspiracy exposes them to great danger. Goodman is adept at layering her modern day thrillers over firm historical/mythological underpinnigs. In The Night Villa, Classics Professor Sophie Chase is lured to Italy for a chance to study newly discovered, ancient scrolls pertaining to the subject of her dissertation, Roman slave girl Petronia Iusta, whom Sophie sees as a woman ahead of her time. The others on her team have their own particular agendas, and not all of them are benign. Readers intrigued by mysterious cults and rites, arcane signs and symbols, labyrinths and grottos, and esoteric manuscripts, not to mention Herculaneum, will thoroughly enjoy The Night Villa, which has moments of genuine suspense despite a somewhat improbable denouement. Goodman's a first rate writer.
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