Modern American Gothic

If I could praise Carol Goodman for one thing alone it would be for updating the modern gothic. With so much bad writing and worse plotting being inflicted upon readers of popular fiction these days it is a joy to find a capable writer who wants to entertain. Goodman chooses to entertain in a genre I’ve loved since I was eight years old and my older sister started reading me her gothic paperbacks.

As any fan of Doris Miles Disney, Mary Stewart or Phyllis A Whitney knows, Gothics have their requirements. There must be dark secrets from the past, a seemingly all-powerful woman, a large house and a landscape that acts almost as another character in the story. Goodman ticks all the boxes in Arcadia Falls while updating them for the 21st century. The large house is a private school, the powerful woman is the dean and the dark secrets are investigated as part of the heroine’s PhD dissertation. Goodman does all this and for most of the book maintains a narrative drive equal to de Maurier’s Rebecca.

This is an accomplished and entertaining book. When it comes to creating atmosphere Carol Goodman is one of the best popular writers today. Her depiction of the the competing claustrophobia and security of a closed community (both the private school and the artists colony it once was) is as effortless as it is effective. I read Goodman’s first book, The Lake of Dead Languages, a few years ago and its obvious that her skills has only increased in the interim.

Unfortunately, as with her first book Goodman’s biggest challenge remains her endings. The ending is not as satisfying or engrossing as the first three-quarters of the book. I’m sure I won’t be the only reader to spot the twists a mile a way. It’s not awful, just not as good. The romance element feels a bit forced and definitely rushed – I half-wished Goodman would forgo the romance this time. But these minor disappointments compared to the overall strengths of the book.

A highly enjoyable Gothic/Mystery that will satisfy discerning fans of either genre.

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