Book Review: The Villa by Rachel Hawkins

Houses remember….


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 did enjoy this book however, the “mystery & thriller” part never quite showed up. The book is told in two timelines, the present where two best friends stay at a villa in Orvieto, Italy, each friend using their time there to pen their new books. The second timeline takes place in 1974 when four Brits stay at the villa during one summer and a murder occurs.

Now the thing about the 1974 time that kind of annoyed me is that it was an absolute rip-off of Mary Shelley’s life, as Mari stood for Mary, Pierce Sheldon for Percy Bysshe Shelley, the rock star Neil Gordon was obviously Lord Byron, and Mari’s stepsister Lara was ripped off from Mary’s stepsister Claire Clairmont. The author used details about Mary Shelley’s life to stand in for Mari’s life (how her father married a next-door neighbor, how her family disowned her when she ran away with the married Percy and even used the death of Mary’s child in Mari’s backstory too). This wasn’t just a little too on the nose, it was a complete sledgehammer. However, if you’re a writer, you might enjoy these tidbits of information.

The present timeline wasn’t as fascinating as the one in 1974, because I really couldn’t stand Em, the cozy-mystery writer who’s too hung up on her best friend Chess’s recent success as a motivational writer. In fact, I don’t even know why these two are friends when they seem to dislike one another.

This book was interesting, I won’t deny that, but at the same time, it didn’t deliver on the thriller aspect that was promised in the beginning. But since I did read the book in about two days, I will say that the author has a way of having you want to stay up to read until you’ve reached the end, so I’ll give her props for that.

All in all, this book is good if you’re looking for a cozy mystery – because it’s in no way a thriller or true mystery. The location is gorgeous and the 1974 timeline of groupies and rockstars was fascinating, despite the blatant rip-off of Shelley’s life.

*Thank you so much to NetGalley and St. Martin’s Press for the digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!


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