by Rachel Hawkins
Released on January 1st, 2023
Published by St. Martin’s Press
Adult Fiction—Mystery, Thriller
The bestselling author of The Wife Upstairs returns with a brilliant new gothic suspense set at an Italian villa with a dark history.
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.
Disclaimer: I was provided a digital galley via Edelweiss+ for the purpose of review. This does not affect my opinion.
The Villa is an interesting, engaging thriller. With a dual-POV and timeline, there is intrigue and wonder between each line.
Rachel Hawkins has a writing style I really enjoy. It is easy to slip into, easy to understand, and it keeps you hooked. She draws readers in with the premise and keeps you reading with build-up, detailing, imagery, and many other elements. I found myself falling into the story and imagining as though I were standing, invisibly, with the characters and watching as everything took place.
Emily’s character was one many readers could understand and relate to. She is going through a heady divorce, struggling to write the next book in her cozy mystery series, and her on-off “best friend” has suddenly taken an interest in her life again and wants her to go on an expensive, exciting vacation to Italy. Emily describes a lot of how she felt while still in a relationship with her ex-husband and the addressed and pushed away feelings that came with their divorce.
However, as the story progressed, I felt as though I did not care as much for Emily’s timeline as much as I did Mari’s. There was a development between Chess and Emily toward the end of the book that felt flimsy and unrealistically justified. A past action that Chess had made came up, and the way that she and Emily went about it made me want to guffaw and stop reading on the spot. Whereas with Mari’s timeline, I felt completely entranced and engrossed in the story. I sincerely wish Hawkins had just written the historical thriller that was Mari’s story, because the beauty and intensity of the events were all there, seemingly waiting to be further built upon.
I did enjoy the overall plot of this book. A murder that happened in their Italian vacation home; a grief-filled, teenage mother trying to get on with her life with her “freedom” loving partner and third-wheel step-sister. The elements were all there for a really wonderful and potentially favorite story. However, there were issues involving the character development and last-minute plot shift in Emily’s timeline, along with the pacing.
I am a particular stickler about pacing. This story started out quickly, and it continued as such for the majority of the book. It was upon the last eighth of the book that it began to fall apart. What was already quickly paced became even more so, almost rushing to be done and over with. I normally enjoy Hawkins’ endings, but this one, I found myself wishing we would have been spared with more time, thought and development overall.
While I did hold some issues with The Villa, I did still enjoy it. And for that, I give it a starred rating. I will continue to read further from Rachel Hawkins, though I do hope to see a bit of improvement in the aspects described above in future projects.
Born in Virginia and raised in Alabama, Rachel Hawkins has been writing since Kindergarten when her first book, a tense thriller involving a unicorn, a witch, and a princess, was called, “very imaginative!” by her teacher and “a searing work of genius” by her mother.
Since then, Rachel has written over a dozen books for children and adults (sadly all unicorn-free thus far), and been published in more than twenty countries. As Rachel Hawkins, she wrote the New York Times bestselling THE WIFE UPSTAIRS, a Southern Gothic twist on JANE EYRE that the Southern Review of Books called, “a thrill ride,” and Entertainment Weekly dubbed, “a gothic thriller laced with arsenic.” Her latest thriller, RECKLESS GIRLS, also debuted on the New York Times list with Kirkus calling it, “a soapy, claustrophobic page-turner.”
When not writing modern Gothic thrillers as Rachel Hawkins, she also pens paranormal romantic comedies under the name Erin Sterling. Her debut romance, THE EX HEX, was a Book of the Month pick as well as a New York Times and USA Today Bestseller.
Rachel currently lives in Auburn, Alabama with her husband, son, and five cats. (Yes, five. She knows.). In her free time, she enjoys reading, cooking, and picking up an assortment of creative hobbies she will give up on after a week or two. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram.