Carol Goodman is a master of connecting the past to the relevant present, dipping into history for topics that resonate years later. The Sonnet Lover is no exception, an elegant treatment of history and lineage as Hudson College’s comparative literature professor Rose Asher attempts to link the lost sonnets of sixteenth-century poet Genevra de Laura with Shakespeare’s infamous Dark Lady.
Specializing in English and Italian Renaissance poets, Asher studied, twenty years before, at La Civetta Villa in Tuscany, the former residence of the young woman who may have penned sonnets to her distant lover believed to be none other than William Shakespeare. Returning from the villa with a play inspired by the missing sonnets, Asher’s favorite student takes the professor aside and asks to speak with her as soon as possible.
When her student dies a sudden violent death before they can meet privately, Rose not only grieves his loss but wonders if she could have prevented it. With no resolution in sight and the untimely death weighing on her mind, Asher decides to return to the villa for the summer, search for the missing sonnets and face the remnants of a broken love affair with a married man she left in her wake.
Rose’s current love, Mark Abrams, President of Hudson College, is delighted when she aggrees to go to La Civetta. He will be traveling there as well to complete the purchase of the villa and its precious artifacts on behalf of the college from the current owner.
With some trepidation, Rose prepares for the trip, but upon arrival, she is immediately thrust into the heady past and the remarkable atmosphere of the history-laden villa. Ensconced in Genevra’s room, Rose begins at once to search for Genevra’s poems, examining her rooms, the library at the villa and a local nunnery for clues to where the woman has secreted the sonnets.
Unable to avoid her own past, Asher is once more confronted with her feelings for ex-lover Brunelli, but their reconnection is complicated by the possible incrimination of Bruno’s son, who was present at the time of the student’s death in New York. Caught between Genevra’s tragic past and her own confused future, Rose finds herself at the center of a tangled web. But murder is afoot, and no one can be trusted.
The result is an eerie mystery replete with villains and charlatans, spurned lovers, and the youthful hubris of students in thrall to the old-world atmosphere of La Civetta. The cast of characters is eclectic: Mark Abrams, Rose’s current romance; Bruno, his wife and their son; a greedy, mediocre academic and his shopping-addicted spouse; and the current owner of the villa, who slyly observes the antics of his visitors while sipping absinthe.
Caught in the intricate web of history are the ill-fated and low-born Genevra de Laura and the man who stole her most valuable possession, Lorenzo Barbagianni. Genevra’s world is tangible, fraught with danger and heartbreak, the lost sonnets crying for discovery, Genevra’s fate finally revealed. Rich and resonant, the Bard and his Dark Lady speak across the centuries.