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The Night Villa: 10/16/09
I picked up a copy of The Night Villa by Carol Goodman from my local library. I chose it with my tried and true method of closing my eyes and picking at random. I liked the title and the cover art. The blurb sounded interesting so I took it home. The beauty of the library is the ability to try new authors and titles without a huge financial commitment.
The Night Villa blends contemporary fiction with literary historical fiction. By literary I mean the book is about a fictional study of something well known like Melville's books, or Da Vinci's art, and so forth. Here the story revolves around new scrolls discovered in the Herculaneum.
Typically the protagonist is an expert in the field: a professor (although sometimes it's a grad student or bibliophile). The Night Villa goes for the first and second options. Sophie Chase is a professor of the Classics at the University of Texas. At her side is a graduate student, Agnes Hancock who has the potential to revolutionize how the Greco-Roman texts are translated.
The foil for the expert protagonist is never anything as simple as a jealous colleague or poor data or something else mundane. No; it must be a secret and ancient society. The Night Villa comes through with the Tetraktys, a cult that dates back to Pythagoras.
Finally of course, there is a hidden message that has been hidden from history for centuries. Here the message is hidden in the scrolls that Sophie an Agnes are translating. Frankly the lengthy passages Iusta's life as a slave drag the plot. I realize they are included for a certain parallelism between Carol's life and her life in ancient Greece but they felt over done to me.
The Night Villa is best suited either for fans of literature set in Italy or for readers of literary adventure thrillers. Similar books include: