M’s drunk review of If We Were Villains by M. L. Rio.
“I blame him for all of it.” – Oliver Marks
What I drank prior: It’s cold outside and the eve of New Years Eve, so definitely a red wine kind of night. We drank outside for a little—it was cold. One star. Just kidding, I had a nice time!
Oliver Marks has just served ten years in jail – for a murder he may or may not have committed. On the day he’s released, he’s greeted by the man who put him in prison. Detective Colborne is retiring, but before he does, he wants to know what really happened a decade ago.
As one of seven young actors studying Shakespeare at an elite arts college, Oliver and his friends play the same roles onstage and off: hero, villain, tyrant, temptress, ingenue, extra. But when the casting changes, and the secondary characters usurp the stars, the plays spill dangerously over into life, and one of them is found dead. The rest face their greatest acting challenge yet: convincing the police, and themselves, that they are blameless.
My Summary: After 10 years in jail, Oliver Marks is finally sharing the real story of the murder of his classmate—a murder which he may or may not have committed. As the story unfolds, the intricacies of this intimate friend group come to light and what happens onstage bleeds over into real life.
Spoiler-free Thoughts: Have you ever had a friend who was in the drama club? Are you that friend? Well kids, then this is the story for you. It was (so so so) deliciously pretentious and I absolutely loved every minute of it. This might seriously be my favorite read of 2020. I loved it. I also thought the love story (stories?) was great and it was a powerful, if fraught and deeply unhealthy, story about friendship.
Characters: Oliver Marks is our narrator telling the story of his demise, if you will. He introduces us to the rest of the cast (aka classmates): his BFF the adorable James, the indomitable Richard, the sexpot Meredith, overbearing Alexander, silent Wren, and trustworthy Filippa. They are all amazing characters, even if you don’t like them. And one of them really is terrible. We’ve also got the Detective who does detective things and is more of a sounding board/plot device than anything, but he’s cool. And sometimes he talks about his family, but they’re not really important.
Plot: I was hooked the entire book. The murder who dunnit sucks you in early and you immediately want to know the whole story. I never felt there was a lull, in the sense that the tension never faltered. You find out about the murder pretty early on too, but it never stops reeling you in. Even after you find out who actually did it! There’s even a twist that I sort of saw coming, but another that I did not.
World Building: I CANNOT SAY THIS ENOUGH. As someone with drama club friends this story rings so true about the intimacies of the group. I was totally sucked into the fictional Dellecher school and these students obsessed with Shakespeare.
Writing Style: This story takes place in the present, with Oliver telling Detective What’s-his-name the story of what really happened, and the past as he tells it. FWIW I think this was a great narrative structure for this book. Both acknowledging and experiencing the feels that existed at the time, while being able to reflect. I “read” this on audio and I think it really takes it up a notch as more of a radio play. And of course the scenes are called chapters which is just *kiss*.
OMG y’all that ending!!! I was listening to it in the car and yelped out loud (thus waking up my sweet, sleeping baby) when O read the letter from thought-dead James. I like to think he is alive and there’s some good fan fic out there that I will 100% treat as canon.
TL;DR: Read this if you’ve ever met anyone in drama club or it holds a special place in your heart. Highly recommend.
Drink Pairing: What is something super pretentious, but also totally awesome? If you like scotch, it’s that, but if you don’t choose the drink you think you’d brag about to friends. But definitely top shelf.
Rating: 5/5 well-deserved shots