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The Villa by Rachel Hawkins: FAQs + Books Like It

Updated: Aug 14, 2023

I had just finished another Rachel Hawkins book when I stumbled across her latest release, The Villa. Between the pretty cover and description that mentioned murder, Italy, and celebrities, I didn't need much convincing to buy it. (Kindle | Kobo | Paperback)

If you do though, here's what I'll say - it's goooooooood. It's one of those psychological thrillers that's interesting and full of suspense without putting you on edge. The dual timeline makes it feel like a really fast read and the parallels between the two stories take it to the next level.

If that sounds interesting enough that you either plan to or are currently reading it, below you'll find answers to many of the most burning questions about it, along with a list of five books like The Villa to read next. (Warning: This article contains spoilers)

The Villa by Rachel Hawkins

What is the Book The Villa About?

The book The Villa is primarily about Emily, a writer who is struggling to finish a book, recently separated from her husband, and recovering from a mysterious illness. She's seriously struggling when her childhood best friend turned self-help guru to millions invites her to a beautiful villa in Italy for the summer. She takes her up on the offer and arrives in Italy hoping to make progress on the stalled murder mystery book. Almost immediately though, she becomes fixated on the murder that happened at the villa in 1974 and her writing takes her somewhere else entirely, somewhere much, much darker.

Is The Villa Scary?

No, The Villa isn't scary or creepy. However, I did find it to be suspenseful and intense at times. Also, violence and murder are described in a fair bit of detail so heads up there.

How Long Does It Take to Read The Villa?

According to How Long to Read, it will take the average reader approximately 5 hours and 24 minutes to read The Villa.

Who Are the Main Characters in The Villa?

Given that The Villa is a dual-timeline book, there are quite a few main characters to keep track of. To help you, here is a list of the characters. The first three indicated with an asterisk are part of the 2023 timeline, while the remaining six are part of the 1974 timeline.

  • *Emily Sheridan - Writer

  • *Chess Chandler - Writer, self-help guru, Emily's best friend

  • *Matt Sheridan - Emily's ex-husband

  • Mari Godwick - Writer

  • Pierce Sheldon - Musician, Mari's boyfriend

  • Lara Larchmont - Musician, Mari's step-sister

  • Noel Gordon - Musician, Lara's friend

  • John (Johnnie) Dorchester - Noel’s drug dealer

Villa Aestas in Orvieto from The Villa by Rachel Hawkins

Is Villa Aestas a Real Place?

No, Villa Aestas is not a real place. However, Orvieto is a real city in Italy with many beautiful villas that you could actually stay at. Also, you could visit St. Patrick's Well (Pozzo di San Patrizio) while you're there.

Who Dies in The Villa?

Two people die in The Villa: Pierce Sheldon back in 1974 and Matt Sheridan, Emily's ex-husband, in 2023.

Who Is the Killer in The Villa?

There are three killers in The Villa: Johnnie, Emily, and Chess.

In 1974, Johnnie kills Pierce during a fight while he is under the influence of drugs. The two previously fought because Pierce talked badly about Johnnie's music to Noel, Noel talked badly about Johnnie to Mari, and Mari rejected his advances because of her love for Pierce.

In 2023, Emily and Chess kill Matt, Emily's ex-husband, by drowning him, although how this happens is not explained. We do learn why they do it though, as Emily says, "Matt is trying to take my money and make sure I'm unhappy as possible for committing the crime of not being the perfect wife. And he says he's in love with you [Chess], but will also go full scorched earth if you won't be with him." In other words, they didn't see a way to be happy with him alive, so they chose to murder him.

What Was Emily Sick With In The Villa?

The unknown illness that caused Emily's ongoing nausea and dizziness was caused by the toxicity of her ex-husband and their relationship. Chess claims that Matt was "killing" Emily but not in the literal sense. She says, "How many doctors look at you and told you nothing was physically wrong? How many medicines did exactly fuck all for you? Your body knew. It was warning you. That's why you got better once he left. And that's why you got sick here when you talked to him. You're fine for weeks; fifteen minutes after talking to him, you were on the bathroom floor."

How Does the Book The Villa End?

I greatly appreciate when a psychological thriller ends neatly and that's exactly what Rachel Hawkins gave us with The Villa, a neat and tidy ending. Here's how each of the dual timelines ends:

2023: Emily discovers that Chess once slept with her ex-husband, Matt. She continued talking to him and "stringing him along" so that he wouldn't tell Emily and ruin their friendship. He then threatened to make the news of Chess sleeping with him public so she was afraid to cut him off. When Chess and Emily finally agree to write the book about the murder in 1974 together, Emily admits that Matt is also suing for a cut of all her past and future work. They don't see any other option but to kill Matt, so they invite him to Italy and he dies by drowning.

1974: 20 years after the 1974 murder of Pierce, Mari returns to Villa Aestas where she writes about what actually happened that night. She breaks the story into two parts and hides it in the villa: "The first chunk in an easy spot. The second, the parts detailing her very real fight with Pierce and her very fictional murder of him, those she tucks away somewhere more secret. Only someone who has read Lilith Rising very closely would even think to look there."

5 Books Like The Villa by Rachel Hawkins

Are you looking for another book to read like The Villa? If so, here are my five recommendations for similar books to check out next:

The Wife Upstairs by Rachel Hawkins

1. The Wife Upstairs by Rachel Hawkins

First and foremost, if you enjoyed The Villa and haven't yet read Rachel Hawkin's bestseller, The Wife Upstairs, then I recommend putting it on your list of things to need next. While the stories are totally unique and won't make you feel like you're just reading the same book in a different font, what I find similar is that the house in The Wife Upstairs acts like a main character just as the villa did. It goes with that idea Mari had: "Houses remember."

The Vacation by T.M. Logan

2. The Vacation by T.M. Logan

Just read this description from SheReads and you'll know exactly why I included The Vacation by T.M. Logan on this list of books like The Villa: "Kate, her three best friends, and their families travel to the south of France to stay in a villa for a week. Shortly after arriving, Kate finds a text message on her husband’s phone that reveals he’s having an affair. Not only is he having an affair, but the other woman is one of her best friends. Without anyone to turn to, Kate realizes that not only is there no one she can trust on this trip, but that the people she’s known for decades all have their own secrets."

Secluded Cabin Sleeps Six by Lisa Unger

3. Secluded Cabin Sleeps Six by Lisa Unger

If you liked the group dynamic of the 1974 storyline in The Villa, then Secluded Cabin Sleeps Six will definitely resemble that. Here's the description: "Three couples rent a luxury cabin in the woods for a weekend getaway. But the dreamy weekend is about to turn into a nightmare. The rental host seems just a little too present. The personal chef reveals that their beautiful house has a spine-tingling history. Meanwhile, someone is determined to ruin the weekend, looking to exact payback for deeds long buried."

The Guest List by Lucy Foley

4. The Guest List by Lucy Foley

Not only does The Guest List flip between characters as The Villa does, but the location where it takes place (an isolated Irish island) also acts as a main character of sorts. Also, one thing these two books have in common is both held onto my interest right up until the very end and delivered intensity and creepiness at times without ever getting too dark or scary. To me that makes them feel like prime beach reads.

Rock Paper Scissors by Alice Feeney

5. Rock Paper Scissors by Alice Feeney

Like in The Villa, the location where Rock Paper Scissors takes place is another main character of sorts. It's also a dual timeline but I can't explain in exactly what way without running all the fun. All I will say about it is that this book has one hell of a twist. Here's the description: "Things have been wrong with Mr. and Mrs. Wright for a long time. When Adam and Amelia win a weekend away to Scotland, they both know this weekend will make or break their marriage, but what they don't know is they didn’t randomly win this trip. One of them is lying, and someone doesn’t want them to live happily ever after."

5 Books Like The Villa by Rachel Hawkins


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