In the midst of a messy divorce and plagued by writer’s block, Emily accepts an invitation from her longtime best friend, Chess (now a lifestyle guru), to spend the summer at a luxurious Italian villa. It turns out, however, that the villa has a sordid history: Nearly 50 years earlier, in the mid-1970s, it was the site of a scandalous celebrity murder that in turn inspired a bestselling feminist horror novel. Emily’s growing obsession with the villa’s history inspires her to write at long last—but investigating that long-ago crime and its aftermath opens up old fissures in her relationship with Chess. Will the villa’s dark history repeat itself?
Rachel Hawkins’ gothic novel The Villa (8 hours) has a wonderfully complicated narrative: Inspired by everything from Fleetwood Mac and Mary Shelley to the Manson murders, it includes not only two separate narratives with two sets of characters but also a novel-within-a-novel, podcast episodes, blog posts and more. Aided in some moments by music, the talented narrators—Shiromi Arserio, Julia Whelan and Kimberly M. Wetherell—prove more than up to the task of guiding listeners through the emotional atmosphere that Hawkins has so superbly created.