Every artist experiences a lull, an acute need for fresh inspiration to get their work flowing again. And in Rachel Hawkins’ deliciously unsettling new gothic thriller, The Villa, characters at two points in time—1974 and the present—decide the very same Italian manse is just the place to spark new creative energy.
In the past, rock star Noel Gordon invites up-and-comer Pierce Sheldon; Pierce’s girlfriend, Mari; and Mari’s stepsister, Lara, to join him for a combination of vacation and songwriting session. Sex, drugs and rock ’n‘ roll abound, along with a rising undercurrent of discontent and unease fed by intense jealousy both romantic and artistic.
The louche vacation comes to a horrifying end when Pierce is murdered, thus cementing the villa’s notoriety—and kicking off major careers for Mari and Lara, both of whom began masterworks (a bestselling horror novel and a platinum album, respectively) during their tragic time in Italy.
In the present, the villa hosts frenemies Emily and Chess. They, too, need writerly rejuvenation. Emily, a cozy mystery author in the midst of a contentious divorce, can’t conjure storylines when her own life is a struggle. And famous self-help guru Chess is feeling intense pressure to come up with her next big thing. So she books them a summer stay sure to be rife with limoncello and, they hope, great new ideas. As Mari’s book and Lara’s album pique Emily’s interest, two mysteries emerge: Is there more to the 1974 tragedy than previously revealed? And is Emily’s growing unease simply due to the villa’s haunting history . . . or are her instincts warning of real danger?
Equally compelling dual timelines intertwine as The Villa progresses, showcasing Hawkins’ skill at crafting intriguing characters who take the notion of an unreliable narrator to clever new heights. Sly commentary on self-help and true crime mixes nicely with eerie gothic elements in this inventive and provocative tale that explores the dark side of artistic genius and the corrosive effects of unhealthy relationships. As a bonus, The Villa has its own legendary inspiration: Circa 1816, a vacation for Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley and Mary Shelley at Switzerland’s Villa Diodati laid the foundation for Mary’s acclaimed Frankenstein. Fans of twisty, creepy, layered thrillers will revel in their suspenseful stay at The Villa.