Book Review

The Villa

The Villa

  • Author: Rachel Hawkins
  • Genre: Mystery
  • Publication Date: January 3, 2023
  • Publisher: St. Martin’s Press

Thank you to NetGalley and St. Martin’s Press for providing me with an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

CONTENT WARNING: mention of death of a child, grief, murder, mention of suicide, mention of drugs, violence, blood

From New York Times bestselling author Rachel Hawkins comes a deliciously wicked gothic suspense, set at an Italian villa with a dark history, for fans of Lucy Foley and Ruth Ware.

As kids, Emily and Chess were inseparable. But by their 30s, their bond has been strained by the demands of their adult lives. So when Chess suggests a girls trip to Italy, Emily jumps at the chance to reconnect with her best friend.

Villa Aestas in Orvieto is a high-end holiday home now, but in 1974, it was known as Villa Rosato, and rented for the summer by a notorious rock star, Noel Gordon. In an attempt to reignite his creative spark, Noel invites up-and-coming musician, Pierce Sheldon to join him, as well as Pierce’s girlfriend, Mari, and her stepsister, Lara. But he also sets in motion a chain of events that leads to Mari writing one of the greatest horror novels of all time, Lara composing a platinum album––and ends in Pierce’s brutal murder.

As Emily digs into the villa’s complicated history, she begins to think there might be more to the story of that fateful summer in 1974. That perhaps Pierce’s murder wasn’t just a tale of sex, drugs, and rock & roll gone wrong, but that something more sinister might have occurred––and that there might be clues hidden in the now-iconic works that Mari and Lara left behind.

Yet the closer that Emily gets to the truth, the more tension she feels developing between her and Chess. As secrets from the past come to light, equally dangerous betrayals from the present also emerge––and it begins to look like the villa will claim another victim before the summer ends.

Inspired by Fleetwood Mac, the Manson murders, and the infamous summer Percy and Mary Shelley spent with Lord Byron at a Lake Geneva castle––the birthplace of Frankenstein––The Villa welcomes you into its deadly legacy.

I’ve become a fan of Rachel Hawkins without even realizing. I’ve read a few of her books and absolutely loved them, and this one looked too good to pass up. So while it isn’t out until January 2023, I figured I’d get a jump on my NetGalley reading while I can.

This book hooked me immediately, and I couldn’t put it down. I flew through this in less than three hours, and literally sat with my nose glued to my Kindle, ignoring everything and everyone around me (including things that needed to get done) so I could see how this ended.

The story is told in two mirrored plot lines, which works really well in this book. Hawkins pulls this off beautifully, and it’s never confusing. 

In the present day, we have Emily and Chess, two frenemies—Chess is a fantastically successful self-help author, while Emily is currently at a low in her life. Emily writes a cozy mystery series, but she’s stalled and behind deadline on book 10, she’s going through an ugly divorce after her husband cheated on her, and she’s only just starting to feel better from a mysterious illness that no one had been able to diagnose. So when her oldest friend Chess suggests that they go away for a few weeks to a villa in Italy, Emily decides it might be a good idea. Turns out, the villa is a murder house.

The other timeline is set in 1974, at the same villa, when rock star Noel Gordon invites a rising star of a musician, Pierce Sheldon, his girlfriend Mari, and her stepsister Lana to join him for the summer. Also at the villa is his “entertainment manager” aka drug dealer, Johnnie. But nothing goes as planned when you toss sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll into the mix. By the end of the summer, Pierce is dead, Mari has written a bestselling horror novel, and Lana tops the charts with an album of her own. 

The narrative shifts between the two stories, and we’re also treated to snippets of Mari’s novel, which provides clues to what actually happened, as Emily sees it. As the two women in the present day start to dig a little deeper into the history of the villa, they also dig up some secrets from their own, more recent past. And they don’t necessarily like what they see.

I love a good fast-paced story, and there were some twists and turns that I didn’t see coming. There was one or two that I saw coming a mile away, but more importantly, I liked watching the characters evolve throughout the story. Initially, Mari’s story was the more intriguing one, while I didn’t really connect as strongly with Emily. But towards the middle and end of the story, I started finding Emily just as interesting, and looked forward to both aspects of the story, and couldn’t wait to hear all sides of what was happening. All of the characters have no shortage of flaws, but it made them feel more realistic, and while they weren’t necessarily likable, they were relatable. 

Overall, this book was easily a one-sitting read, the kind that gets its claws in a reader and doesn’t let go until the shocking end. It’s the kind that keeps me wondering after I’ve finished, and keeps my mind twisted, thinking about what motivates people and what goes on in other people’s minds.This is one that I thoroughly enjoyed and will be recommending highly.

People who have sat around with me while I’m reading, especially when there’s a surprising reveal, a shocking plot twist, or an unexpected event often look up in alarm when I gasp audibly. The gasp factor is directly related to the number of times I audibly gasp during a reading, and there isn’t an upper limit.

Gasp Factor: 7

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