Review: If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio

M.L. Rio's novel about student rivalries turned ugly starts strong but goes downhill in the second act. As the novel opens, Oliver Marks is being released from prison, having spent the past ten years there. The detective responsible for putting him away is waiting at the gate. Now retired, he wants to know the truth. And so, Oliver begins a story of an elite group of Shakespearian actors in their fourth and final year of college. Only the best of the best are allowed to continue in to their final year at Dellecher Classical Conservatory and, unsurprisingly, rivalries and tensions are quite high. But the biggest challenge of all occurs when a terrible crime is committed and the six remaining students have to convince the police that they are innocent ...

In many ways, this novel feels like a poor cousin to The Secret History. Much like the eccentrics that fill the pages of Donna Tartt's modern classic, this group of students are wealthy and part of an exclusive group who do everything together but, arguably don't like one another very much. Their language is peppered with Shakespeare quotes, which is more annoying than atmospheric and each individual character has very little depth. Each is meant to represent the different stereotypes found in Shakespeare's plays--hero, villain, seductress ect, but I never really got a strong sense of it on the page. The murder occurs in the second act, which whilst shocking, also slows the plot of the remainder of the rest of the novel. And the reasons for Oliver's confession, lacks the detail and depth for it to feel believable. I feel that the author's intent was to write something akin to one of Shakespeare's tragedies but it never really gets there.

Overall, I cannot say I enjoyed this one. It was overlong, irritating and lacked the kind of detail that would have caused me to feel more empathy for Oliver and the other characters.

Not recommended. 


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