A villa in Umbria with breathtaking views and the history of a murder could be the ideal setting for Hawkins to create a mind-numbing formula, but she cleverly transfers the jealousy, greed, and invincibility of youth from the group of spoiled yet talented artists from the seventies to a current day group of the temporary inhabitants in her Gothic tale of The Villa. Taking inspiration from the twenty something group of nineteenth century artists Lord Byron, Percy Shelley, Mary Shelley, and their friends’ who famously spent a summer in Switzerland, writing and cavorting, Hawkins twists the themes of distrust, frenemies, and squandered talent as she flips her story back and forth between the times, carrying the angst, misery, and murder with them.
The plot centers on Emily Sheridan, author of the moderately successful “Petal Bloom” cozy mysteries, who has run out of ideas for her series. Her villainous ex-husband, Matt, is suing for a cut of her royalties, including any future books she may write. Emily’s best friend since childhood, Chess Chandler, a best-selling author of self-help books has rented the Villa Aestas in Umbria for six weeks, and invites Emily to spend the summer with her there. The Villa is the site of a nineteen seventies murder, involving rock musicians and writers. Cue Lord Byron and Mary Shelley, and all those wonderful Gothic mystery components – missing manuscripts, suspicious locals, rakes, and women who succumb.
Rivalry more than collaboration prevails among the musicians and the writers. The two friends find themselves mired in old family squabbles and present day expectations. As a writer, I could understand Emily’s fear of having her ideas stolen. Recently, two books with the same plot and characters were published; one by a well known author, the other by a good writer but without the backing of publishers and without a list of former books. Perhaps you read one or both – JoJo Moyes’ The Giver of Stars and The Bookwoman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michelle Richardson, both told the story of the Appalachian librarian on horseback. Both books were published around the same time; both authors claimed original research and inspiration. Accusations and lawsuits ensued but only the writers knows what really happened.
And would a writer really give up an original idea to collaborate and share credit with a friend? Unlikely – unless you are James Patterson, whose name alone might propel book sales. Hawkins concedes it is fear more than friendship ruling the decisions in her story.
Beware of quitting before the very end. Hawkins seems to wrap up the story, Agatha Christie style, explaining and connecting the various plot lines, but finally, Hawkins changes everything, flipping villain to victim in a surprise twist at the end..
A quick fun read.
If you need more murder, try The House in the Pines by Ana Reyes. My phone said I read this book in 5 hours – a definite page turner. If you are worried about memory loss and manipulation, this psychological thriller will scare you.