Book Review: The Villa by Rachel Hawkins

Posted January 6, 2023 by WendyW in Book Review, bookblogger / 53 Comments

The Villa
One StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

by Rachel Hawkins
Publication Date January 3, 2023
Published by St. Martin's Publishing Group
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Genres: Fiction / Gothic, Fiction / Thrillers / Psychological, Fiction / Thrillers / Suspense
Pages: 288
Format: ARC

***I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.***

"Hawkins weaves an engrossing tale about betrayal, sisterhood, and the power of telling your own story. Captivating!" ––People

"Hawkins is the reigning queen of suspense." ––Heather Gudenkauf, New York Times bestselling author

"The Villa teems with sexual tension, festering tempers, and questionable friendships." ––Sarah Penner, New York Times bestselling author

The bestselling author of The Wife Upstairs returns with a brilliant new gothic suspense set at an Italian villa with a dark history.

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.

The Villa by Rachel Hawkins is a dual-timeline mystery thriller set in Italy.  I loved this suspenseful thriller that kept me up until I finished the book.  

Story Recap: 

Emily and Chess have been best friends since they were kids.  Now in their 30s, they have grown apart as they each have followed their own separate career paths.  Chess calls Emily and suggests they spend a few weeks in a villa in Italy.  Emily is at a point in her life where she needs a break and can’t resist such a generous offer.   

Chess rents out Villa Aestas in Orvieto, a high-end holiday home. The Villa used to be known as Villa Rosato.  In 1974, Villa Rosato was rented out by famous rock star, Noel Gorden.  Noel invited up-and-coming musician, Pierce Sheldon,  his girlfriend, Mari, and her stepsister, Lara to spend the summer at the villa.  When the summer is over, Mari has written one of the best horror novels of the time, Lara has written a chart-topping album and Peirce is murdered.  

Emily finds hints of the earlier murder in the Villa and searches for more clues.  What she finds is shocking, but equally shocking events happen in the present that can change the direction of her friendship with Chess. 

My Thoughts: 

I just loved the setting of this book.  A villa in Italy with a haunted history makes for a rich and mysterious setting for this thriller.  I didn’t like any of the characters very much, but that’s expected in this type of book.  I enjoyed the 1970s timeline the most as it has that sex drugs, and rock and roll theme, and there were more interesting characters.  I was excited to see what would happen to these characters while staying at the opulent villa.  

The modern-day timeline started a bit slow, but by the end of the book I was fully invested in these characters and loved the way they unraveled the mystery of the earlier timeline.  Although, nothing is as it first appears, so hang on, the ending for both timelines is the best part of the book.  

So, although the story drags a bit in the middle, the ending it totally worth it and made the slower parts worth the wait.  


I highly recommend The Villa to anyone who enjoys contemporary thrillers.  I received a complimentary copy of this book.  The opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

About Rachel Hawkins

Born in Virginia and raised in Alabama, Rachel Hawkins has been writing since Kindergarten when her first book, a tense thriller involving a unicorn, a witch, and a princess, was called, “very imaginative!” by her teacher and “a searing work of genius” by her mother.

Since then, Rachel has written over a dozen books for children and adults (sadly all unicorn-free thus far), and been published in more than twenty countries. As Rachel Hawkins, she wrote the New York Times bestselling THE WIFE UPSTAIRS, a Southern Gothic twist on JANE EYRE that the Southern Review of Books called, “a thrill ride,” and Entertainment Weekly dubbed, “a gothic thriller laced with arsenic.” Her latest thriller, RECKLESS GIRLS, also debuted on the New York Times list with Kirkus calling it, “a soapy, claustrophobic page-turner.”

When not writing modern Gothic thrillers as Rachel Hawkins, she also pens paranormal romantic comedies under the name Erin Sterling. Her debut romance, THE EX HEX, was a Book of the Month pick as well as a New York Times and USA Today Bestseller.

Rachel currently lives in Auburn, Alabama with her husband, son, and five cats. (Yes, five. She knows.). In her free time, she enjoys reading, cooking, and picking up an assortment of creative hobbies she will give up on after a week or two.

Have you read The Villa?

53 responses to “Book Review: The Villa by Rachel Hawkins

  1. I’m glad you enjoyed this one, Wendy. Her last book was quite crazy, so I am glad this sounds a bit better although still gripping. Great review.

  2. I’ve been on the fence about this one but you convinced me I need to read it. I think I’m going to go with the audio though as I tend to have better luck with pace issues in that format.

  3. This sounds amazing and the dual timeline murder mystery reminds me of books like The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo will definitely add this to my TBR 😍

  4. I love the cover of this book! The setting and mysterious elements sound wonderful. I’m happy to hear that it was enjoyable and the slower parts made up for it. Great review Wendy!

  5. I always find it hard to like characters in psychological thrillers. The setting sounds fantastic. Excellent review, Wendy!

  6. I was contemplating reading this one Wendy but with mixed reviews I decided not to. I’m glad that you enjoyed it! Wonderful review.

    • I’ve seen wonderful reviews, and some not so wonderful reviews for this. I’m somewhere in the middle. I’m not much of a thriller reader anyway, I want to read about characters I like.

  7. Okay, so normally, I stay away from thrillers. They typically freak me out and I get in my own head and then it’s just… no good haha. However, this sounds more murder mystery-ish, which is super appealing. I like the fact that it’s a dual timeline and that the current characters investigate the story of the previous characters. Very interesting way of laying out the book. I might have to pick it up!

  8. I saw a review for this on Tessa’s blog yesterday. I never would have expected a story like this based on the cover, but I’d definitely read it. The Italy setting is just a bonus.