I have wanted to write a review for this blog about a novel by one of my favourite authors Carol Goodman. However this left me with the difficult decision as to which book to choose! As a result, I have decided to instead write a general review about her work as a whole and would encourage you to pick up one of her wonderful books and discover her for yourself.
I have been reading Carol Goodman’s books since her debut novel, The Lake of Dead Languages, was published in 2002 and since then have eagerly anticipated each new release. The Lake of Dead Languages remains one of my favourite novels, perhaps in part because it introduced me to a writer who since then has created fantastic stories that have enthralled me over the years.
Her books are all written in quite a distinct style. They are in essence thrillers, but the atmosphere and tone of them makes them so much more than an ordinary thriller. Drawing on her own background as a teacher, her central characters tend to be strong, independent women, who are usually teachers or writers and all of whom have a background or secret they are trying to forget. Throughout her writing, Carol brilliantly weaves haunting stories that cannot help but feel eerie, somewhat gothic and often poignant in tone, which I find, is due to the fact that her books usually include an element of reaching into the past, to some unknown or hidden secret or incident, which impacts on those characters in the present.
I tend to enjoy novels that have some element of shifting time periods, letting you in to two stories in one and so I love the worlds created in Carol’s books, when two characters separated by years and even centuries become linked in a way that binds them together. It is also this that adds to the eerie, gothic atmosphere of her books – whether it’s returning to a lake which holds terrible secrets from the past, as in her debut novel, or exploring an ancient buried villa, which holds the secrets to people and practices long since dead. Very few authors’ novels capture my imagination the way hers do and that is due to her wonderful writing and the incredible haunting atmosphere she creates.
To give a flavour of her work, I have included a brief summary of each of her novels that I have read below.
The Lake of Dead Languages (2002)
Her debut novel is a gothic thriller set in both the past and the present and centres on Jane Hudson, a new Latin teacher at the Heart Lake School For Girls. However Jane already has a connection to the school – she was a pupil there 20 years ago until she left after the mysterious suicide of her roommates. As memories from her past start to resurface, Jane realises that the events from all those years ago may be about to repeat themselves and the secrets as to what happened to her friends may finally be revealed.
The Seduction of Water (2003)
Another tense thriller, this novel follows teacher and writer Iris Greenfeder who, unsatisfied with her life, has decided to write the memoirs of her mother Katherine Morrissey, who was also a writer of two successful novels and who disappeared one night when Iris was a child, only to die in a fire miles away from home. Iris’s literary agent encourages her to return to her childhood home, from which her mother disappeared – the Hotel Equinox in the Catskills, in order to research her mother’s life and attempt to discover whether the much rumoured third novel in her mother’s trilogy ever existed. As the story progresses, we find ourselves following Iris’s search, but also following her mother’s own story, which may at last be about to be revealed.
The Drowning Tree (2004)
Juno McKay’s fifteen-year college reunion is approaching at Penrose College and the only reason she decides to go is to see her old friend Christine Webb. She has also agreed to help restore the beautiful stained glass window in the university’s chapel, which has become a symbol for the college itself and which was commissioned by the Penrose family 80 years ago. On her return to the college, Juno attends a lecture by Christine, an art historian who is researching the story behind the window for her thesis. Christine reveals possible insight into the lives of two sisters who belonged to the Penrose family and it is a story that shocks those present. The next day Christine disappears. Juno is determined to discover what happened to her friend and begins to explore for herself the secrets surrounding the Penrose family fearing her friend discovered a secret that may have cost her life.
The Ghost Orchid (2007)
Set in an artists’ colony in Upstate New York, this novel’s main character is Ellis Brooks, a first-time novelist who has arrived at the colony to seek inspiration for the book she intends to write about the colony’s mysterious founder Aurora Latham and the mystery surrounding tragic events that occurred there in the summer of 1893 – the summer when Milo Latham brought the medium Corinth Blackwell to the estate to help his wife contact the couple’s children, who had died the winter before in a diphtheria epidemic. However after a séance went badly wrong, Corinth and her alleged accomplice, Tom Quinn, disappeared, taking with them the Lathams’ only surviving child. As Ellis explores the past and the eerie grounds of the colony start to give up its dark past and hidden secrets, she and the other residents begin to uncover connections which may finally reveal the truth about what really happened that summer. This is one of Carol’s most haunting books, as Ellis starts to unravel Corinth’s time at the colony and it is a novel that stayed with me for years since I first read it.
The Sonnet Lover (2007)
Rose Asher is a literature professor who travels from New York to La Civetta in Italy, a villa at which one of her students had been spending the summer on a school sponsored residency. The student in question had posed an intriguing question to Rose – whether Shakespeare wrote a series of sonnets, in praise of an unknown dark-haired woman – but soon after died in an apparent suicide in front of the faculty. However the villa also has a personal significance for Rose as it is the villa that she herself spent time at as a student and at which she first fell in love. On her return she finds that the man in question is still in residence. Rose must find out whether there is any truth in her student’s questions and how it is connected to his death.
The Night Villa (2008)
Classics professor Sophie Chase travels to Capri in Italy in order to explore the mysteries surrounding the occupants of a centuries old villa, Villa della Notte, which was buried after the eruption of Vesuvius in AD 79. It is believed that the nobles living at the villa practiced pagan rituals involving slaves. Sophie and her team are determined to uncover the story of a slave named Iusta, who may have died during the eruption and through the story we see in to the lives of both Sophie, as her exploration becomes ever more dangerous, and Iusta, who provides a glimpse in to a long lost world.
Arcadia Falls (2010)
Meg Rosenthal desires a fresh start for her and her daughter and she is determined they will find it when she moves to teach at a boarding school called Arcadia Falls. However, soon after they arrive the school is faced with the tragic and suspicious death of one of Meg’s students, who falls to her death in the campus gorge during the school’s First Night Bonfire. As the circumstances surrounding her death are investigated, secrets from the past begin to emerge and Meg must face them in order to protect not only herself but her daughter.
As these summaries suggest, Carol Goodman’s books take you in to a story of both the past and the present, to create tense, haunting thrillers that you won’t be able to put down. I think all her books are fantastic but if asked to choose my favourites I would probably say The Ghost Orchid and The Lake of Dead Languages, both of which have stayed with me for years after I first read them and which I have given as gifts to friends. If you are looking for a new author to read, definitely pick up one of her books!
Carol Goodman’s books are available from the usual book stockists.