'If We Were Villans' by M.L. Rio was an impulse purchase by Monkey in Waterstones that she insisted I had to read too so we could discuss the plot. What a good book, is my first response. I mean there are gaping plot holes in places but I was thoroughly engrossed the entire time, and I did not see 'whodunnit' until the final reveal.
It is set in a tiny private drama school that concentrates entirely on Shakespeare and focusses on the lives of the exclusive final year students and the events surrounding the death of one of them. It is jam packed with Shakespeare references and quotes, so Monkey was in her element; some knowledge of the plot lines of some of the more well known plays is definitely as advantage when reading, allowing you to know immediately the nature of the different characters and the potential sequence of events. One of the students has served a prison sentence for the killing of another, but the police officer in charge is not convinced he has got to the bottom of what really occurred, so on his release he persuades Oliver to tell him the real story.
Act II Scene 1
"Two weeks before opening night we had our photos taken for publicity, and the FAB was an absolute madhouse. In order to take phots we needed costumes, and everyone was running back and forth from the dressing rooms to the rehearsal hall, changing ties and shirts and shoes until Gwendolyn was satisfied. The previous year's election had inspired Frederick to do Caesar as a presidential race, so we were all dressed as White House hopefuls. I had never worn a suit that really fir me in my life, and my own reflection surprised me more than once. for the first time, I entertained the idea that I could be handsome, with enough effort. (Previously, I'd thought of myself as attractive only in a forgettable, inoffensive way - an idea reinforced by the fact that the few girls I'd been mixed up with inevitably seemed to realise that they liked me better onstage as Antonio or Demetrius than offstage as my mid-mannered self.) Of course, among my classmates I might as well have been invisible. Alexander looked like a mafioso in shimmering grey, an onyx tiepin glinting on his chest. James, immaculate in deep ink blue, could have been the heir apparent of some small European monarchy. But Richard, in pale pearl grey and a blood-red tie, cut the most impressive figure of all." (p.111)
It's hard to talk about books like this without giving stuff away, not that the revelation of the outcome is the only good bit of the book. The whole gradual disclosure is beautifully done with the tension building between the characters, a wonderful tight knit group with a tangle of dislike, jealousy and sexual tension. I will leave you with Oliver telling the policeman, Colborne, about their discovery of Richard's body (this is the original interview, not the true version of events):
Act III Scene 2
" 'I saw Richard,' I told him. Not a proper dead man, not really floating. 'Just sort of hanging there. But broken and crushed, like everything was bent the wrong way.'
'And you - ' He cleared his throat. 'You got in the water.' It was the first time he hesitated.
'Yes.' I pulled the blanket closer, as if it could somehow thaw me, shield me from the feeling of cold water closing in around me. I knew, sitting there in the dry warmth of Holinshed's office, that I'd never forget it - how my lungs shrank so suddenly I thought they would shatter, gasping more in shock that for oxygen. Richard's face, much too close, white as bone. The sour iron smell of blood. That insane urge to laugh was back, as strong as the urge to vomit, and for one harrowing moment I thought I would be sick all over the carpet at Colborne's feet. I swallowed again, choked everything down. He mistook my wave of nausea for emotion and respectfully waited for me to compose myself.
Eventually I managed to say, 'Someone had to.'
'And he was dead?'
I could have told him how it felt, to reach for Richard's throat and find the flesh cold, that vein that had once bulged and throbbed in anger flat and finally still. Instead all I said was 'Yes.' " (p.197-8)