Dark Passages: Boarding School Gothic

My newest “Dark Passages” column at the Los Angeles Times looks at the first and most recent books by Carol Goodman, which share an upstate NY, secreted girls’ school setting, though THE LAKE OF DEAD LANGUAGES takes it in a different, more classical direction than does ARCADIA FALLS. Here’s how the piece opens:

As mystery readers well know, constrained geography ups the likelihood

of murder. From John Dickson Carr’s mastery of the locked room to

Agatha Christie’s penchant for country houses to Louise Penny’s

depiction of nastiness crawling out of the woodwork of one tiny

French-Canadian village, death may be bloodless on the page, but

secrets possess an even bloodier sense of suppressed rage that is

desperate for attention and visibility.

The magical boiling caldron of secrets, unsolved murders and isolation

explains the appeal of Carol Goodman’s best work — ironically, being

her first and most recent novels, twinned in subject matter and

character development. Both “The Lake of Dead Languages,” published in 2002, and this month’s “Arcadia Falls” (Ballantine:

364 pp., $25) share what should be a dream-like setting of boarding

schools situated in towns close enough to the big city of Manhattan but

removed enough to suggest earlier time periods, when adolescents were

not so technology-dependent and believed in the romance of the

heartfelt handwritten diary entry. Both books feature girls on the cusp

of womanhood, running the gamut from innocent precocity to

succubus-like attraction to dangerous thrills. And both draw heavily

from Goodman’s knowledge of literary archetypes, from those rooted in

the classics to more modern, artistic tropes….

Read on for the rest.