Title: If We Were Villains
Author: M.L. Rio
My Rating: ★★★★
Enter the players. There were seven of us then, seven bright young things with wide precious futures ahead of us. Until that year, we saw no further than the books in front of our faces.
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.
This was, by far, the best thriller I read all year, and I am so grateful I got to share this reading experience with so many lovely bookworms as part of our readathon, FridayFrightAThon. If you read along with Melanie, Jen, Chelsea, and me — THANK YOU! We had so much fun!
If We Were Villains was such a unique story and the way it was structured was perfection. We follow Oliver’s POV during his final year at Dellecher Classical Conservatory in Illinois, and in the present (ten years later). These sections alternate, but the chapters that take place during the school year are broken down into scenes and acts. Really, that’s quite perfect since this book follows Shakespearean actors. I truly believe that if you’re a Shakespeare fan then you are going to love this dark, haunting mystery.
The story begins in the present: Oliver has been released from prison and he’s confessing everything to an ex-detective that worked on his case. Ten years ago, a group of seven pretentious theatre students were involved in a crime. And they’ve decided to go full “I Know What You Did Last Summer” by keeping it all a secret. Since they’re talented actors, they know a thing or two about fooling law enforcement. But, as you can imagine, things quickly begin to unravel.
The cast of characters are:
Oliver – The main character who considers himself average but seems to be the glue that holds his group of friends together. He’s a talented actor and is roommates with James.
James – Oliver’s roommate and also very talented. I found him to have a bit of a mysterious air about him. He’s likeable and understands Oliver the best.
Alexander – Dubbed the “druggie” of the group. He’s quiet and I believe he’s either bisexual or gay.
Richard – The “villain” in our story. He’s filled with rage and extremely competitive. He’s dating Meredith and is cousins with Wren.
Wren – Cousins with Richard but is from England. She is quiet and down to Earth.
Filippa – Kind, caring, and very likeable.
Meredith – The “temptress”. She is Richard’s girlfriend, beautiful, and talented.
All seven friends/students live on campus in a building called the Castle.
I am going to be transparent with you and say I am not familiar with a lot of Shakespeare’s works, and it’s a shame because I felt like I missed a lot of parallels buried within the story. There were several plays — Romeo & Juliet, Julius Caesar, King Lear, to name a few — that made appearances throughout each act. And I’m sure they each tie into the characters and themes. Despite my lack all-things-Shakespeare knowledge, I immensely enjoyed reading about it.
As for the setting — I absolutely loved how atmospheric it was. I’m from a small college town in the Midwest so naturally I’m going to be drawn to those settings. And despite the students being so pretentious, I liked it. What’s interesting is that I never connected with any of the characters. In fact, I didn’t even like anyone. But I still liked how over-the-top they were and how their theatre professors let them get away with so much shit.
In the end this book earned a 4-star rating from me. It would’ve been 5-stars had the ending not played out the way it did. I am not going to spoil anything; but things got a little TOO over-the-top and what was supposed to be a poetic ending just felt a little too try-hard. I know I’m in the minority on this one so take what I say with a grain of salt!
Overall this book is so beautiful, suspenseful, and such a damn page-turner. I highly recommended it if you’re in the mood for something dark and superbly written.