ABOUT THE BOOK:
On the day Oliver Marks is released from jail, the man who put him there is waiting at the door. Detective Colborne wants to know the truth, and after ten years, Oliver is finally ready to tell it.
Ten years ago: Oliver is one of seven young Shakespearean actors at Dellecher Classical Conservatory, a place of keen ambition and fierce competition. In this secluded world of firelight and leather-bound books, Oliver and his friends play the same roles onstage and off: hero, villain, tyrant, temptress, ingénue, extra. But in their fourth and final year, the balance of power begins to shift, good-natured rivalries turn ugly, and on opening night real violence invades the students’ world of make believe. In the morning, the fourth-years find themselves facing their very own tragedy, and their greatest acting challenge yet: convincing the police, each other, and themselves that they are innocent.
Part coming-of-age story, part confession, If We Were Villainsexplores the magical and dangerous boundary between art and life. In this tale of loyalty and betrayal, madness and ecstasy, the players must choose what roles to play before the curtain falls.
LISTEN TO AN EXCERPT:
If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio is a 2017 Flatiron Books publication.
This is a psychological thriller for deep thinkers. There is crime and there is punishment. There is mystery, suspense. There are intense characters, shallow ones too, those who are fatalistic and those who are tragic… just like a Shakespearean play.
Ten years ago, Oliver Marks was one of seven Shakespearean actors at the prestigious Dellecher Classical Conservatory. Today he is about to walk out of a prison cell for the first time in a decade. How did he end up behind bars?
That’s something Detective Colbourne would also like to know. He may have put Oliver in prison, but he knows there is more to the story than he's been told.
He can’t rest until he coaxes the entire story out of Oliver once and for all. With Colbourne retired, and with nothing else to lose, Oliver grants Colbourne his wish.
‘But that I am forbid/ To tell the secrets of my prison -house,/ I could a tale unfold whose lightest word/ Would horrow up thy soul.’
The story then flashes back ten years as Oliver walks us through the events that left him holding the bag for crimes he may or may not have been solely responsible for.
When one of the seven elite actors’ dies, the remaining six thespians are the very picture of innocence. It was an accident after all… wasn’t it? But, Detective Colbourne’s senses they know more than they are telling. Are they as innocent as they appear or are they harboring a dark secret- one that is eating away at them more and more with each passing day?
I tend to gravitate towards these types of stories, which are too few and far between, but I suppose that only makes me appreciate them even more when I stumble across one.
The Shakespearean allegory is well done, as the stage is set for the ultimate tragedy. Our little acting coalition is as thick as thieves, too close, too driven, too immersed within their own little thespian world to cope with reality as most of us know it, which leads to grave consequences, when they begin to become the roles they often play on stage. Jealousy, competition, unrequited love, anger and resentment stir the bubbling pot until ‘exuent omnes’.
I was so engrossed in Oliver’s tale, so mortified, so mesmerized and tantalized, and despite knowing most of the details of the crime in question, and that Oliver has obviously paid his debt, the suspense is still nearly unbearable, because I still didn't know WHY- or HOW things turned out this way. I was filled with such dread, I almost felt like I was back in Vermont at Hamden College listening to Richard Papen unfold a similarly horrifying tale of obsession.
But, as morally questionable as those standing center stage may be, as superficial and self-absorbed, or in some cases, as honorable, or heroic- the classic “Villains VS Heroes”, if you will, the story is haunting and left a painful ache in my heart.
“But that is how a tragedy like ours or King Lear breaks your heart- by making you believe that the ending might still be happy, until the very last minute.”
The author did an amazing job with presentation and ‘staging’, as such, and created a vivid atmosphere, perfect for settling in for a modern Shakespearean tragedy. If you are a fan of the Bard, you will really appreciate the way the dialogue mirrors the events as they unfold and of course the bittersweet irony.
This is not just a psychological thriller, it’s a literary novel filled with obsessions and angst, with beauty and horror, and a near pitch perfect delivery!
This is a debut novel, incredibly, and I for one am pretty much blown away!
Pulling out the stars for this one!
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
M. L. Rio is an author, but before she was an author she was an actor, and before she was an actor she was just a word nerd whose best friends were books. She holds a master's degree in Shakespeare Studies from King's College London and Shakespeare's Globe. When she's not reading, writing, or explaining why the Authorship Question is actually just a conspiracy theory, she fills her time with friends and family, wine and whiskey, and music made twenty years before she was born.