I’m a literature teacher, so I read a lot of books, especially during the summer when the last academic year’s classes are over and I’m planning for the coming year. So for my leisure reading–the ones I read to relax and chill out or prepare myself for sleep–I tend to read non-gory mysteries, particularly of the “cozy” variety. They usually create some interesting characters and settings and have enough of a mystery to keep my mind engaged without requiring a lot of attention or analysis.
But one of my favorite authors is Carol Goodman. Her mysteries are always set in an academic setting, and usually have a lot of literary, mythological, and/or historical content intertwined with the search for answers about some death or disappearance. It isn’t always clear whether or not there has actually been a crime, at least at first (pretty much non-spoiler alert: there has always been a crime). The protagonist is almost always a strong, independent female teacher or college professor in a Northeastern prep school or college (mirroring Goodman herself, who teaches writing and literature at SUNY New Paltz and The New School). They are usually intelligent and require some academic or content sleuthing along with figuring out the mystery. They are kind of like a kinder, gentler, more female-oriented, and more normal situational DaVinci’s Code.
So when I found there was an early one I missed, I had to read it, even though it required an Interlibrary Loan to find it. The Sonnet Lover is like catnip to a mystery-loving literature teacher like me. Yes, there is a murder–maybe?–or two to be solved. But the deaths revolve around the search for some missing sonnets that may or may not reveal the identity of woman scholars refer to as “The Dark Lady”–the subject of a series of sonnets by William Shakespeare in which the relationship sounds more passionate and sexual than his earlier, more spiritual love sonnets. Plus, after starting out in a liberal arts college in New York City, most of the book takes place over a summer in a medieval villa in Florence (both of which are super romantic settings for me, in totally different ways). So the book is full of poetry, Shakespearean quotes and references, history, and actual academic reasoning, all of which I love.
I will say this is not my favorite Carol Goodman book (although I would be hard pressed to choose a single favorite). The actual murderer I thought was pretty obvious. But I really enjoyed the protagonist’s twists and turns about why and how and whether or not the sonnets were real and what they revealed. Her descriptions about Florence are wonderful, and more focused on the history and the art than the scenery and the food. Plus, what literature lover wouldn’t be intrigued with the idea that there were poems that people cared enough about to actually potentially kill someone over?
So for me, this was a great summer read. I know a lot of my followers enjoy poetry, so I thought you might enjoy this as well. But anyone who likes intelligent mysteries should check out the novels of Carol Goodman.