An Unfortunate Misfire
The Villa bills itself as a mystery thriller book but despite a promising premise, this one fails to live up to expectations. The problems with Rachel Hawkin’s latest book run deep, although to be fair I did read this in two sittings and felt compelled to get to the end, which is definitely something!
The story here takes place across two timelines. In the present, Emily and Chess are reunited after a long absence. They were best friends as children but were separated and very different fortunes in life. For Emily it’s the best thing that could happen. She’s stuck in a rut, with a stressful divorce hanging over her and writer’s block seeping its way in. Chess though is basically a superstar, having managed to captivate the masses with her self-help books.
The pair head off to Italy and end up drinking, sightseeing and eventually get to writing. Only, Emily is far more interested in procrastinating, making snidey comments about Chess’s lifestyle and, most importantly, becoming ensnared by a murder mystery that occurred in this very villa they’re staying in back in the 70’s.
As Emily starts to investigate, the narrative slips back in time to follow two sisters, Lara and Mari. Mari is well-known as one of the greatest horror writers of all time, having written an engrossing book called Lilith Rising. It turns out, it has a dark history that links back to this Villa.
Mari is joined at the villa by her boyfriend Pierce Sheldon, an up-and-coming musician. There’s also Noel Gordon too, a prolific rock star and Johnnie, who shows up to riff with them.
The two timelines remain parallel to one another until around 38% of the way through the book where the story shows its hand very early on and reveals what happened. I mentioned before about the dual narratives but there’s also a third element to this, which comes from news snippets and extracts from the aftermath of the murder, giving context to what happened at the end of every chapter. Only… they’re completely unnecessary additions.
As a result, The Villa feels very repetitive and constantly repeats information we’ve already been told numerous times. By the halfway point, you’ll find yourself itching to get back to the present-day timeline.
It’s obvious that there’s a twist coming and to be honest, anyone savvy enough to follow the characters in the 70’s timeline will figure this out long before the finale. However, this murder is only a small part of the story, as most of the narrative plays out much more as a slow burn thriller between two friends who have a fair amount of baggage that comes spilling out in disastrous ways during our present timeline.
Emily is a difficult protagonist to root for and to be honest, I found myself siding with Chess on more than one occasion. Emily refuses to get help for her issues, she procrastinates a lot, she’s bitter and resentful about her past and she does everything but write. To make matters worse, this book is absolutely obsessed with writing. Now, as someone who loves writing myself, it’s nice to see some representation, but when 3 of your 5 main ensemble are all writers and the other two are musicians, it shows a lack of diversity which is a bit of a shame.
The other part of this book that’s worth mentioning is the sheer amount of alcohol. While it’s understandable for the 70’s timeline, with the whole sex, drugs and rock n roll idea, in the present, not a day goes by that Chess and Emily aren’t drinking some sort of alcoholic beverage. Whether it be wine, cocktails or limoncello, the pair never stop!
On a slightly different note, there’s a shoehorned LGBTQ storyline in here that doesn’t fit with the narrative given it’s never mentioned again after showing up unexpectedly, while the final few chapters feel rushed and slightly disappointing.
Despite its flaws though, The Villa is an undeniably bingy read. As mentioned earlier I read this across 2 sittings (one up to 30% on my kindle, the other all the way through) and I felt compelled to see this through to the end, which is definitely something. Unfortunately, The Villa is not a compelling mystery nor does it have particularly likable characters. This one’s an unfortunate misfire.
Verdict - 4/10