Review: The Night Villa, Carol Goodman

I am miles behind on reviews, miles. As I write this review on 3 May, I have five other books I’ve yet to review. I keep telling myself that I’ve been a bad blogger because I haven’t had any time to read, but this is demonstrably untrue. I’ve been reading like mad and just not getting time to write the reviews. I read The Night Villa weeks ago, and in fact wrote a review of it, but WordPress glitched and I lost the review. And then I was too discouraged to write it over again. Let that be my excuse.

Carol Goodman has been on my radar for several years now, ever since Eva mentioned her in my first ever RIP Challenge. She appears to write books in the vein of Barbara Michaels / Elizabeth Peters — slightly fluffy, slightly gothic mysteries populated by people researching the Spooky Past. The Night Villa follows the archaeological adventures of classics professor Sophie Chase as she studies the fate of a slave girl, Iusta, in the village of Herculaneum, one of the towns destroyed by Vesuvius. There is also a Pythagorean cult. Basically lots of things I love.

Why I read the end: I suspected I knew who the villain was, and I wanted to see if I was correct. (I was.)

I had a few problems with the book, mostly arising from the mental comparisons I was making to Elizabeth Peters who — say what you will about her — always has a sense of humor and entertaining male leads. That wasn’t so much the case here, and I couldn’t understand why Sophie was interested in any of the people she was interested in. Overall, though, it was a fun read. I love a good research mystery. Any book where somebody urgently needs to get to a library and do urgent research for high stakes is a book I will not wholly shut my heart against. (Well, almost any book. I shouldn’t make sweeping pronouncements, it’s like begging the universe to prove me wrong.)

I just had one big complaint, and it cast a larger shadow on my reading of the book than you might expect. My big complaint with The Night Villa is that it features large sections of a Latin narrative by fictional Roman writer Phineas Aulus, and the narrative sounds nothing like Latin. I’m not having a go at Carol Goodman for ignorance; she obviously knows plenty about classical antiquity. But the Latin narrative didn’t sound like Latin. It sounded like English. Goodman handwaves this by having her characters say they’ve never read a Latin text that was so intimate and conversational, but that didn’t appease me because the sentences and the dialogue and everything, they just didn’t sound like they had ever been Latin. What she should have done is written those sections in Latin, left them in a drawer for three months, and then translated them back into English. That way there would have been Latin syntax mixed in there at some point.

Obviously this doesn’t matter to the story, and a Latin-sounding text might have been less fun to read. But whenever I was reading the “translated” sections of the Phineas Aulus text, I was maddened by the unLatiny way they carried on. I shall read more Carol Goodman soon though! Arcadia Falls maybe. It features a boarding school. Boarding school research mystery. With fairy tales!

Other reviews:

Fizzy Thoughts
Dear Author
S. Krishna’s Books
A Book Blogger’s Diary
The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader
The Printed Page

Tell me if I miss yours!

21 thoughts on “Review: The Night Villa, Carol Goodman

  1. This sounds fun, but what your review did was make me want to read more Amelia Peabody books. It’s been a whole year since I read the first two! What is wrong with me?

    • Me too, me too! I can’t remember the last time I read an Amelia Peabody book, but it’s probably been at least a year.

      Also, Jenny, I like research mysteries, too, but I think I’d be too annoyed by the fake translated Latin and the unaccountable romantic attraction to enjoy this book. I might be interested in reading Arcadia Falls– you know I love boarding schools! And I especially love boarding school mysteries!

      • Er, that was for Ana. Anastasia, this is for you: I am super excited because my Mumsy and Daddy are bringing me all my Amelia Peabody books TOMORROW. GLORIOUS.

        I will report back to you on Arcadia Falls, I promise.

    • I don’t want to be all, What IS wrong with you, but for realsies, you should read the subsequent books. Ramses gets adorabler, and there is a Master Criminal, and that’s just in the next two books. I promise you will become joyful when you read them.

  2. I read this book last year and enjoyed it very much as a fun romp. The Latin sections fooled me as I’ve never studied the language, but I did wonder how authentic they sounded at the time…. Now I know!

    • It is a fun romp, that is an exactly good description of it. If not for the Latin I could have rejoiced in it without worrying about its faults. I think others of Carol Goodman’s books will be equally fun and rompy without annoying me. :D

      They…sounded very inauthentic. And I am saying that as a girl with only high school Latin, so either (a) you shouldn’t trust me at all or (b) it was very obviously unLatiny. Of course I incline to (b) but you can decide what you think.

  3. I really liked Arcadia Falls, and have heard a lot of good things about this book as well. I can’t say that I would be too bothered by the fake Latin, as I have never studied it, and remain ignorant about it in general. I do think I would miss the humor though, and if I remember correctly, there was some humor in Arcadia Falls, despite it being a rather serious book. I am glad that you mostly liked this one, and it was interesting to read your thoughts on it.

    • I’m glad you liked Arcadia Falls! It sounds like a good read, and it’s nice to hear that it really is one. The Night Villa is a lot of fun, and only a weirdo like me would mind about the Latin.

  4. “Boarding school research mystery with fairy tales” sounds exactly up my alley but I may wait for you to read it first and tell me if it is, or not. :)

  5. Oh, love your new avatar image!

    And, I’ve read tons this month, too, but haven’t gotten around to writing reviews for each of them, nor will I likely ever write a review about each of them. there is a certain period after I’ve read a book that is optimal for writing eloquently about it, but after that, I find myself struggling harder to explain what I did and did not like about it. The exception is when I take notes as I read – that helps keep the book fresh for a longer time.

    Honestly, though, I’ve never been this bad with remembering a reading experience! It’s gotten worse since university years…

    • Me? My avatar image is oooooooooold. You have been away too long, Sharry! I missed you when you were gone!

      I totally understand what you mean about the window of opportunity for reviewing books. I have a list of books I forgot to review, and one of these days, I swear, I’m going to at least mention I read them. :p I’m terrible about taking notes on what I read — I always have good intentions, but things don’t always work out awesome.

  6. Oh, I do love Elizabeth Peters’ books (not really the Peabody ones, though). Though apart from Peabody and Vicky Bliss her books aren’t in print in the UK, worse luck.

    I’ve been reading a lot of Mary Stewart in the last week and now have a massive backlog of reviews to write…

    • Not the Peabody ones, indeed? I love the Peabody ones, they are so charming and fun and just the thing for if I am feeling ill and tired. Her books as Barbara Michaels are less good but still fun.

  7. I think this one was a bit of a departure for her. Most of her books have that boarding school/academia feel to them…along with the requisite gothickyness. Maybe Goodman felt like she was in a rut and had to branch out to Italy?

  8. I like the boarding school/academic feel, I am all set to read the rest of her books! I prefer boarding schools to Italy, as far as book settings go.

  9. I read The Lake of Dead Languages many years ago and really liked it, I’ve been meaning to read more Carol Goodman ever since. Arcadia Falls is high on my list also!

  10. Thanks for the review and I think I’m a Latin weirdo too because I feel the language is very unlatiny and I get annoyed by it. Perhaps it would have been better if the narrator had made a point about not giving a direct translation but a rough one, but then again, that would have required some discussion about textual interpretation problems… which I would have loved, but I’m only a Latin weirdo lol

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