If you take the writings of Mary Higgins Clark, Victoria Holt, the Brontës, and Han Christian Andersen and mix them in a blender, the resulting concoction could serve as the building blocks for Carol Goodman’s oeuvre, the latest of which – The Sea of Lost Girls– being a prime example; and yet, there is something so distinctive in Goodman’s style that her novels invariably feel singularly her own. Elements that she returns to again and again include the boarding school setting, secrets from the past, legends and lore, and female empowerment – all of which once again play a significant role in this new novel.
The narrative structure of The Sea of Lost Girls allows readers to witness events through the eyes of Tess Henshaw. Tess was once a student at Haywood School and she now teaches English at the institution. Her husband, Harmon, is a departmental supervisor there; and her teenage son, Rudy, attends Haywood, where he has had some difficulty fitting in and making friends.
When Rudy calls home in the middle of the night, asking his mother to meet him at “the safe place,” she knows there is something seriously wrong. Upon arriving, Rudy explains that his girlfriend, Lila Zeller – his only friend – has broken up with him. Relieved that it is only some youthful angst, Tess takes Rudy home, concerned that the emotional toll may trigger his deeply-rooted feelings of self-doubt. Tess is sure that by morning, things will look much more manageable – that is until she gets that call informing her that Lila has been found dead not far from the cliffside where “the safe place” resides.
As is Carol Goodman’s style, this death eventually ties into a local legend about the Maiden Stone, near which it is rumored that countless girls have drowned. Tess knows that Lila was working on a massive research project tracing the history of these missing girls. Could something Lila uncovered have led to her “accident?”
Meanwhile, Tess has secrets of her own and a reference in an online forum sends shockwaves. Is the past she thought she left behind about to catch up with her and Rudy? Can she mitigate the damage by exposing her own history before the townsfolk use it as fodder to condemn her? As one witch hunt take hold in the halls of Haywood, another seems to loom just under the surface. Might the two actually be connected?
Few authors weld secrets as weapons so skillfully as does Carol Goodman. This is largely because in her novels, it is never just a single secret but rather a series of secrets built one upon the other in such a way that the removal – or exposure – of any one of them begins the collapse of the entire structure, leading to the ultimate truth. Which secret comes to light first alters the course of each novel and Carol Goodman always knows where to start that unraveling to result in the most addictive reading experience.
Reading Carol Goodman makes one feel smarter. This is a writer who weaves in little facts here and there throughout her plots, information drawn from literature, music, theater, philosophy, and so much more. In The Sea of Lost Girls, the major touchstones are The Crucible and The Scarlet Letter; but other, potentially significant, references come from the worlds of mythology, musical theater, and fairy tales. Readers leave the world of a Carol Goodman novel feeling as though they have been both entertained and enlightened in equal measure.
Carol Goodman’s The Widow’s House won the Mary Higgins Clark Award in 2018 and her novel, The Night Visitors, is nominated for that award this year. Based on her track record and the fact that Tess Henshaw proves to be a formidable female character rallying against male dominance, expect The Sea of Lost Girls to be on the short list for next year’s award. Keeping that in mind, do not miss this novel.
Disclaimer: A print galley of this title was provided to BOLO Books by the publisher. No review was promised and the above is an unbiased review of the novel.