Villa bills itself as a mystery thriller book, but despite its promise, this book falls short of expectations. The problems with Rachel Hawkin’s latest book run deep, though to be fair I read it in two sittings and had to finish it, which is a must!
The story here takes place in two timelines. Currently, Emily and Chess are reunited after a long break. They were best friends as children, but had separate and very different destinies in life. For Emily, this is the best thing that could happen. She’s in trouble with a stressful divorce and creeping writer’s block. Although Chess is actually a superstar, he has managed to captivate the masses with his self-help books.
The pair go to Italy and drink, sightsee, and eventually start writing. He is only interested in putting Emily off more, making embarrassing comments about Shahmat’s lifestyle, and most importantly, getting caught up in the murder mystery of the villa they stayed in in the 70s.
As Emily begins to investigate, the story shifts back in time to follow two sisters, Lara and Marie. Marie is known as one of the greatest horror writers of all time, having written the fascinating book Lilith Rising. It turns out that there is a dark history associated with this Villa.
Joining Marie in the villa is a young musician, Piers Sheldon. There’s also Noel Gordon, a pro rock star, and Johnnie, who appears for dozens of riffs.
The two timelines remain parallel until about 38% of the book, where the story shows its hand very early on and reveals what’s going on. I mentioned the dual narratives earlier, but there is also a third element to this, which comes from news clippings and excerpts from the aftermath of the murder, giving context to what happens at the end of each chapter. Only… these are completely unnecessary extras.
As a result, Villa feels very repetitive and constantly repeats the information it tells us over and over again. At the halfway point, you find yourself itching to get back to the present timeline.
There’s obviously a twist, and honestly, anyone savvy enough to follow the characters in the 70s timeline will figure it out long before the finale. However, this murder is only a small part of the story, as most of the narrative plays out as a slow-burn thriller between two friends with a fair amount of baggage that spills out catastrophically in our current timeline.
Emily is a hard character to root for, and to be honest, I’ve found myself with Chess a few times. Emily refuses to get help for her problems, procrastinates a lot, is bitter and resentful about her past, and does everything but write. To make matters worse, this book is all about writing. Now, as someone who likes to write myself, it’s nice to see some representation.
Another part of this book worth noting is the alcohol content. While understandable for the 70s timeline, with the whole idea of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, not a day goes by that Chess and Emily don’t have some sort of alcoholic drink. Whether it’s wine, cocktails or limoncello, the couple never stops!
On a slightly different note, there’s an LGBTQ storyline here that doesn’t fit into the narrative as it’s never mentioned again after appearing unexpectedly, making the last few chapters feel rushed and a bit of a letdown.
Despite its flaws, Villa is undeniably highly readable. As mentioned before, I read it in 2 sittings (one on my burner to 30% and the other all the way through) and I had to see it through to the end, which is a must. Unfortunately, Villa isn’t a compelling mystery and doesn’t have particularly likable characters. This is an unfortunate mistake.