Narrator: Julia Whelan, Kimberly M. Wetherell, Shiromi Arserio
Published by Macmillan Audio on January 3, 2023
Length: 7 hrs 57 mins
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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.
I don’t know where to start with The Villa. We have two storylines and the narrative jumps back and forth. In 1974, five people stayed at the villa. Two women came out of it with career-defining works. One man was killed. In the present day, Chess and Emily are spending the summer at the villa, each working on her next book. Emily becomes interested in the events from 1974 and starts researching and piecing together that story.
The parallels between the 70s and the present day become clearer as the novel progresses. Friendships are tested. Tempers boil over. Secrets are revealed. Both storylines grabbed my attention. The book slowly leads up to the defining moments, moments that are both inevitable and shocking. I honestly didn’t like any of the characters though, in either time. While the women especially, were strong and bold, they were also manipulative and did more damage to each other than the men in their lives did.
I listened to the audio, which was done quite well. The narrators did an excellent job and I enjoyed the feeling that Mari and Emily were telling us their stories, letting us see their feelings and the events from their points of view.
The Villa was absorbing. It touches on competition between friends, where inspiration comes from, and how damaging some relationships can be.