Review of River Road, by Carol Goodman

Carol Goodman has a special place in my life as a reader, perhaps even in my spiritual life, as the author who brought me back to reading crime fiction with The Lake of Dead Languages. I’d read a lot of mysteries in my teens & 20s but while I was a professional literature teacher & scholar I read little imaginative literature for recreation. But as a school story about a Latin teacher, her 1st novel, Lake of Dead Languages, appealed to me. Since then I have read several of Carol Goodman’s books. The Night Villa was the one I liked best both for its setting on the Bay of Naples & because it is based on the classical scholarship of a BF (who so far as I know hasn’t murdered anybody). I chose River Road expecting a one-time fast-read traveling audio hoping for a four-star but I fear I was disappointed. Perhaps it’s just that I’ve had a surfeit of academic intrigue in real life–tenure committees, faculty love affairs, professors with a “drinking problem” (i.e. no trouble drinking), and plagiarism are what I lived with for forty years. As Nan the main character is a fiction writer (substituting ETOH for her deficiency in creative juices), there’s not as much classical scholarship as I’d have liked, tho’ I enjoyed Scully the drug dealer as the Scylla & naming the institution SUNY/Acheron was lol funny. How I’d love a degree, honoris causa, from that place!

Lately in thriller-mysteries there’s more villainy than one baddie can handle, so as in this book more are required (sort of like the famous 3rd murderer in Macbeth, one reckons) which means an extra hare’s-breath ‘scape for the MC too. First the reader meets an ostensible villain who’s known well-before the end of the book, but after that character is rendered hors de combat, the main character & the reader (because there are a couple of chapters still to go) find a hidden malefactor who is the real lead villain. This is usually some seemingly innocuous minor character (in a British police procedural I read it was a FLO–a nice touch!), often someone who pretends to be a friend. In River Road I didn’t quite suss the hidden villain but it was someone high on my list of likely suspects & I’d nailed the motive, something endemic in academia. We also are given another favorite fictional-villain cliché. After the villain gets the drop on you or otherwise renders you helpless, rather than dispatching you immediately & skedaddling, the villain has to expend several pages informing the intended victim of the details & motives of the crime, giving the cavalry enough time to arrive. It is also characteristic of this sort of fiction that characters who so far as we are aware have no experience with firearms are able to get hold of an unfamiliar pistol & kill with a single shot.

Not a bad book, but I regret the time wasted not listening to something better. Tho’ I am grateful to Carol Goodman for reviving my love to this genre, I find now her wares, both the characters & the setting, seem to have become awfully shopworn.

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