1968, Sicily. Just months after a terrible earthquake has destroyed the mountain town of Gibellina, Enzo and his wife Irene Borgata are making their way back to the family home, Villa Alba del Ciliegio, on roads overlooked by the eerie backdrop of the flattened ghost town. When their car breaks down, Enzo leaves his young wife to go and get help, but when he returns there is no trace of Irene. No body, no sign of a struggle, nothing.
Present Day. TV showman and true crime aficionado Milo Conti is Italy’s darling, uncovering and solving historic crimes for his legion of fans. When he turns his attention to the story of the missing Irene Borgata, accusing her husband of her murder, Enzo’s daughter Maddi asks her childhood friend, retired detective Jane Cobain, for help to prove her father’s innocence. But the tale Jane discovers is murky: mafia meetings, infidelity, mistaken identity, grief and unshakable love. As the world slowly closes in on the claustrophobic Villa Alba del Ciliegio, and the house begins to reveal its secrets, will the Borgata family wish they’d never asked Jane to investigate? And what did happen to Enzo’s missing wife Irene?
Bestselling author Louise Douglas returns with an irresistibly compelling, intriguing and captivating tale of betrayal, love, jealousy and the secrets buried in every family history..
Publisher: Boldwood Books
Format: Ebook (inc Kindle Unlimited), Audio and Paperback (3 July 2023)
Source: Copy to review via Netgalley
My thanks to Rachel of Rachel’s Random Resources for the tour invite and to the publisher for the ecopy to review. I’ve always enjoyed Louise’s books (I’ve read 7 in total, not all are reviewed on the blog but you can find a couple of previous reviews here The Secret by the Lake and The Room in the Attic. The latest, The Secret of Villa Alba looked perfect for me with its shifting timelines and narrations.
It’s a dual timeline story, set both in the 1960’s and 2003 in Sicily; with narrative flashbacks to 1968 voiced by Yorkshire bred Irene, the 24 year old wife of widowed Enzo Borgato whose mysterious disappearance is the central focus of the story. Whilst I enjoyed both timelines, it was Irene’s story that really captured my attention, both for its honesty and for the reservations that she had about her new life and family. It was also clear that her heart belonged somewhere else. She was an ‘accidental bride’ and whilst Enzo did his best to make her happy, many in his family were not quite as welcoming.
Enzo’s daughter, Maddalena, enlists the help of an estranged best friend, April Cobain, to help find out what happened to Irene all those years ago and to clear her father’s name. He is being ‘accused’ publicly of Irene’s murder by a true crime TV presenter and the stress is making him ill. April is a retired DI and although she fell out with Maddalena, she was always fond of Enzo. With mention of Mafia connections to the family, April has many avenues to follow.
I did enjoy this one very much. The family relationships, both in the past and present make for an captivating read – there are secrets and deceit which April needs to work through, with the assistance of a local Detective Inspector.
Both Irene and April were engaging characters and Irene had a backstory of her own. As the story progresses there are more revelations which move towards explaining the mystery of Irene’s disappearance. There was a point when I guessed which way the story was going but getting to the resolution, with its twists and surprises still made for interesting reading. Both Villa Alba and the Sicilian location before and after the earthquake were an integral part of the story and almost characters in their own right.
The Secret of Villa Alba is an intriguing story with suspense aplenty and one that I was completely invested in. It’s more of a domestic suspense than a psychological thriller and is hugely enjoyable with underlying themes of love and jealousy and a rather dysfunctional family, hiding its secrets.
Louise Douglas is the bestselling and brilliantly reviewed author and an RNA award winner. The Secrets Between Us was a Richard and Judy Book Club pick. She lives in the West Country.
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