By Rachel Hawkins
Publication Date: January 3, 2023
7 Hours, 57 Minutes
I was thrilled when Netgalley approved me for this audiobook. Not only did it save me months of waiting for it at the library, I’ve been trying to up my audiobook intake. This was a win-win since anything comped to Lucy Foley and Ruth Ware has my interest antenna up.
Here’s the blurb: Villa Aestas (formerly Villa Rosato) in Umbria, Italy is the stage for this dual timeline novel. In the mid-1970s, a famous musician and a group of his friends stay at the villa for the summer. It turns into a trip that ends in death for not one, but two of them. Of the survivors, the two women go on to fame. Mary Godwick, whose point of view we’re in during this timeline, pens a bestselling horror, Lilith Rising. Her step-sister, Lara Larchmont, records a smash album, Aestas. Both women based their works on the events of that summer.
Decades later, Emily’s life is in shambles. Just recovering from a mysterious illness, her husband is divorcing her and demanding a share of all past and future royalties from her cozy mystery series. Her best friend since elementary school, Chess, invites her to Italy for six weeks to relax at Villa Aestas. While there, Emily is drawn to a copy of Lilith Rising and wonders if there’s more to the tragedy than was reported. Even as Emily’s plans for a breakthrough book develop, so does tension with Chess. As long-buried resentments emerge, Emily has to wonder if Chess had a hand in her recent hardships. And if she did, what is Emily willing to do about it?
Okay, I loved the fact that not only was this novel written in two intriguing timelines, where one did not outshine the other, but the narration was interspersed with snippets from Mary’s novel and media reports (both historic print articles and more recent podcasts) about the 1974 murder. These were great ways of bringing the reader up to speed on information about the case that might have been a dry infodump otherwise. I have to note, though, that it was a little jarring for the first few chapters as the narrators jumped between these multiple sources of information and I had nothing visual to indicate I shouldn’t expect straight narration. But once Emily’s story picked up, I had it down and followed along with no problem.
There was more interplay between Emily and Chess since it was written as a direct narrative and not as journal entries. The narrators did a good job with the southern accents without going overboard and I found myself irritated at both Chess and Emily in turn, sometimes wondering why Emily put up with Chess, then realizing that everyone has a friend like that. Selfish and self-centered but constantly pulling you into their orbit.
My only criticism is that I felt the ending lacked a bit of tension (even though it didn’t end the way I thought it would, which is always a pleasant surprise) – unless there’s a sequel. I haven’t checked but the way it was left, there could very well be. At least, I hope so.
4.25/5 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐+
Thank you to Netgalley and Macmillan Audio for providing the ARC audiobook. I’ve left my review honestly and voluntarily.
Until next time, thank you for visiting.