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"The Villa" | Reviewed by Susan Ferguson

“The Villa,” by Rachel Hawkins, is a thriller with lots of secrets and twists. The story follows two timelines; 1974 and present day. It is centered on an upscale house rental, Villa Aestas, located in Orvieto, Italy. The present day narrator is Emily, the successful author of the “Petal Bloom Mysteries: A Cozy Series.”

Emily is suffering from writer’s block, the book she is working on next at a standstill. She is sure this block is occurring because her husband is filing for divorce and asking for royalties from her books. Emily is not financially set so the last thing she wants to do is provide him with more of her needed income.

Emily’s best friend of 30 years is Chess Chandler, also a successful writer. Chess writes self-help books and is an Internet sensation. She invites Emily to join her at The Villa Aestas for six weeks in hopes of spurring on the friends’ creative juices.

Emily soon learns that the Villa Aestas, formerly known as the Villa Rosato, is the site of the 1974 murder of then up-and-coming musician Pierce Sheldon. While browsing through villa’s library Emily finds a copy of “Lilith Rising” by the famous horror novelist Mari Godwick. Mari was Pierce’s girlfriend at the time of his death, and also was at the Villa Rosato the day Pierce was murdered.

Emily becomes fascinated with the murder and is spurred on to discover the truth about the murder, especially after she finds some of Mari’s hidden notes. Emily’s creative juices begin to flow again, but her efforts don’t go into another Petal Bloom novel. As Emily exposes readers to Mari’s writings, the narration switches back to Mari and 1974.

Mari and her half-sister Lara Larchmont accompanied Pierce to Villa Rosato because of an invitation from rock star Noel Gordon. Noel rented the villa for the summer in hopes of writing a new album. He invited Pierce to collaborate with him on the project. This time becomes known as the “summer of sex, alcohol and drugs” and results in Pierce’s brutal murder. Although Pierce’s death is tragic the summer results in Mari writing one of the greatest horror novels of all time and Lara composing "Aestas," a platinum album.

As Emily uncovers Mari’s secrets and her writing, readers bounce between the two narrators and time lines. This quick read has some expected and unexpected twists at the end. “The Villa” will keep readers turning the pages.

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