I love Carol Goodman.
Ever since reading The Sea of Lost Girls several years ago–I think after we met at Bouchercon in St. Petersburg at the Harper Collins party?–I’ve considered her one of our best current novelists in the crime genre. The more of her canon that I read, the more convinced I become (The Lake of Dead Languages, The Night Villa, The Uninvited Guest), and so naturally I was very excited to listen to The Night Visitors on my drive this past weekend. I finished listening somewhere around Satsuma, Alabama (Alabama really has the most interesting town names), and loved every minute of it.
Oren falls asleep at last on the third bus. He’s been fighting it since Newburgh, eyelids heavy as wet laundry, pried up again and again by sheer stubbornness. Finally, I think when he nods off. If I have to answer one more of his questions I might lose it.
Where are we going? he asked on the first bus.
Someplace safe, I answered.
He stared at me, even in the darkened bus his eyes shining with too much smart for his age, and then looked away as if embarrassed for me. An hour later, he’d asked, as if there hadn’t been miles of highway in between, Where’s it safe?
There are places, I’d begun as if telling him a bedtime story, but then I’d had to rack my brain for what came next. All I could picture were candy houses and chicken-legged huts that hid witches. Those weren’t the stories he liked best anyway. He preferred the book of myths from the library (it’s still in his pack, racking up fines with every niles) about heroes who wrestle lions and behead snake-haired monsters.
The Night Visitors has two point of view characters; Alice, an abused mom on the run with her son, Oren, and Mattie, a social worker in a small town in upstate New York. This is an excellent example of differentiation between voice; while the authorial voice never falters and you never doubt you’re reading a Carol Goodman novel, the two voices are clearly that of two very different people. Alice and Oren arrive in the town, where they are greeted by do-gooder Mattie, and then begins the dance of the story. Both women take the other’s measure, and both women are hiding horrific secrets that their close relationship is going to bring out over the course of less than thirty-six hours. Mattie is a social worker who lives in an enormous if crumbling house; that first night–even though it’s against all the rules–Mattie decides to bring Alice and Oren home with her, rather than leaving them at the safe house, Sanctuary. And that’s when the strange things begin to happen.
Thirty four years ago, Mattie’s entire family–early onset Alzheimer’s mother; hanging judge father; change of life baby brother Caleb–all died from carbon monoxide poisoning from their faulty furnace. Mattie found their bodies, and her life–already severely off-course and altered–runs aground against the rocks. She has thrown herself into her work–even though she sometimes thinks her social work training is bunk (which I, as a counselor, sometimes think myself in weary frustration; it’s easy to see how social workers burn out from their jobs)–and has never completely gotten over the loss of her little brother. She sees a lot of her lost brother in young Oren–which alarms and worries both women. Alice is also being chased by her abuser, and everything–the past, the present, the futures–all come crashing together one night during a blizzard and power failure at the crumbling house, as all the secrets from the past slowly start coming out, with both women forced to face not only their own truths but the other woman’s as well, as they fight for their lives in a blizzard in the dark against a killer who wants them both gone.
The book is simply extraordinary. The suspense and tension once the power goes out is almost unbearable and are impossible to turn away from; it was incredibly difficult waiting two days to finish listening to it, and it was hard to get out of the car yesterday at the Civic Center in Wetumpka and stop listening. I highly recommend it, as I do anything by Carol Goodman.