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Book 139: The Lake of Dead Languages by Carol Goodman

Book 139: The Lake of Dead Languages.
Author: Carol Goodman, 2002.
Genre: Mystery. Campus Novel.
Other Details: Paperback. 390 pages

Twenty years ago, Jane Hudson fled the Heart Lake School for Girls in the Adirondacks after a terrible tragedy. The week before her graduation, in that sheltered wonderland, three lives were taken, all victims of suicide. Only Jane was left to carry the burden of a mystery that has stayed hidden in the depths of Heart Lake for more than two decades. Now Jane has returned to the school as a Latin teacher, recently separated and hoping to make a fresh start with her young daughter. But ominous messages from the past dredge up forgotten memories.  And young, troubled girls are beginning to die again--as piece by piece the shattering truth slowly floats to the surface... - synopsis from author's website.

This was Carol Goodman's début novel and overall I found it an accomplished mystery with Jane's narration serving as a guide to the unfolding story in the present as well as recalling the events of twenty years previously. Goodman had taught Latin after leaving university so the challenge of teaching a dead language to a group of modern day students most likely drew on these experiences.

Given the campus setting and the Classics asserting a powerful influence upon a group of impressionable students there was bound to be comparisons made with Donna Tartt's The Secret History. I didn't feel this novel was as meditative or arty as The Secret History though certainly provided a compelling mystery with plenty of satisfying twists and turns.

Goodman does a wonderful job of establishing her setting: the claustrophobic atmosphere of the all-girl's boarding school and Heart Lake itself with its shifting moods and local legends. She also uses the weather to great effect throughout the novel as May Day and summer revels contrast sharply with the depths of winter, the ice and snow and of course the frozen lake.

I have already read a later novel of Goodman's and can see similar themes in both including weaving in aspects of classical and modern Paganism in a sensitive manner. I certainly plan to read more of her works including those written in partnership with her husband under the pen name Lee Carroll.
Tags: mystery, myth and legend
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