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THE NIGHT VILLA
By Carol Goodman
Ballantine, 2008 ($14.00)
Reviewed by Shirley Wetzel
Classics professor Sophie Chase should have realized how serious the problems were between her graduate student, Agnes, and the girl’s ex-boy friend, but she was too busy worrying that the innocent girl might succumb to the charms of Elgin Lawrence, the professor who’s leading an important archaeological project in Italy. She knows all too well how easy that is to do, having had her own past experience with the professor. After a tragedy leaves the expedition one person short, Sophie is offered the job, but she’s reluctant to step in. The man who is backing the project, the mysterious, gorgeous, and very rich John Lyros, does some charming of his own, and Sophie is soon on her way to the Isle of Capri. Barely recovered from a gunshot wound, she falls ill soon after arriving. Cosseted by Lyros at his exquisite villa, built on the plan of the original Night Villa, she regains her strength, and is determined to carry her weight on the project.
The Papyrus Project is the brainchild of Dr. Lawrence, who believes there are valuable documents buried beneath the streets of Herculaneum, partly covered in lava in 79 A.D. when Mount Vesuvius erupted. Lyros is supplying the high-tech equipment that might make it possible to read them. The draw for Sophie is that the location of the dig, the Villa della Notte, or Night Villa, might have been home to a mysterious slave woman who was of particular importance to her research.
Sophie’s past is filled with sorrow -- the drowning death of her mother, the loss of her college lover to a bizarre cult, and other sad events. She has centered her life on scholarship, and the potential discoveries to be made at the Night Villa would be the pinnacle of her career. All is not as it seems, however. Unknown forces with competing agendas bring danger to those, like Sophie, who might get in their way. Sophie's studies bring the ancient city back to life, and the secrets of the past have a major impact on her experiences in the present.
Ms. Goodman has written a fascinating tale, deftly intertwining events from the buried cities from the classical past with a modern day story of the triumphs and perils of the academic life, with just a touch of romance.
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