The lake of dead languagesI said I wasn’t going to read another Carol Goodman book right away, so I put aside The Lake of Dead Languages to return to the library.

And started Rosamund Lupton’s new novel, Afterwards.

I loved and continue to recommend Sister—Lupton’s first novel—but I just couldn’t get into this story, which begins with a teenaged girl getting badly burned in a school fire. I shy away from books that use a child’s suffering or death as the jumping off point. (The chief reason why I’ve never read any of Laurie R. King’s Kate Martinelli mysteries is because the first one I picked up—I think it was With Child—featured a child in danger from a serial killer.) Plus Afterwards featured a strange mother and daughter out-of-body motif in the opening scenes; it didn’t work for me.

So, The Lake of Dead Languages it was. Having read two of Goodman’s books practically back-to-back, it was all too easy to pick out the formula: a lonely female teacher of a certain age, a sad and mysterious past that erupts in her present, an unexpected love interest, copious literary imagery, etc. I saw the plot twists coming from a mile off. But with all that, I have to admit that Goodman writes a readable novel. She’s skilled at setting a scene, developing characters, and devising moody, Gothic thrills. Lake was her first book, published in 2002, and I can see why she’s had a successful if not blockbuster career.

Goodman’s inclusion of a spring fertility ritual—the virgins, the stag god—reminded me of Donna Tartt’s thriller The Secret History, published in 1995, which is also set at a school (a college not a high school) and involves Classical studies, mythology, and murder. I liked both of Tartt’s books (her second was the atmospheric, mesmerizing The Little Friend), but there doesn’t seem to be a third one on the horizon.