cover image If We Were Villains

If We Were Villains

M.L. Rio. Flatiron, $25.99 (368p) ISBN 978-1-250-09528-2

The premise of Rio’s debut novel is intriguing: it’s a murder mystery set at a Illinois college specializing in Shakespeare studies, led by a man with the coincidentally appropriate name of Holinshed. The story follows a group of college students’ passions, jealousies, and insecurities, which, over time, escalate to murder. Rio makes effective use of her framing device—a prologue set in 2007 introduces one of the students, Oliver Marks, who is about to be released on parole from prison after a decade behind bars for murder. The homicide detective who handled the case, Joseph Colborne, is about to retire from the force and attempts to convince Oliver to finally come clean about what really happened by promising him that anything he reveals will be off the record. Flashbacks disclose what led up to the death of one of the students in 1997 and the tensions Oliver observed among his classmates before and after. Though the plot twists may not surprise some readers, this is a solid mystery that keeps the pages turning. (Apr.)