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Thriller set on the BALEARIC ISLANDS

1st June 2023

The Villa by Ruth Kelly, thriller set on the Balearic Islands.

Thriller set on the BALEARIC ISLANDS

Most of us have come across reality shows on TV, where candidates are incarcerated in an idyllic, state-of-the-art house. The inmates are there to tantalise and tease the viewers as they couple up, de-couple and wind each other up, smooch and spat and show off their insanely toned and honed bodies. If these shows appeal, then this novel will be a good choice.

Thriller set on the BALEARIC ISLANDSThe story is set on fictional Aruna in the Balearics and the the eponymous villa of the title is sumptuously furnished, with great attention to detail and lavish style.

Laura is the first contestant whom we meet but she is actually not who she purports to be. She is a journalist with a thinly disguised persona and she bowls up in the helicopter under her stage name of Iris. Her newspaper has encouraged her to undertake this, as it will of course make a fabulous scoop and her boss has cajoled her into taking on the imposter mantle. There are 4 females and 4 males, the numbers supplemented by further candidates as the show progresses. This is not mainstream TV but is featured on the internet, where viewers have 24 hour video access to the people living in this villa, following them virtually wherever they choose to skulk.

Laura gradually discovers that the island is incredibly well secured and escape looks impossible. The lure of the ‘prize money’ should surely be incentive enough to overcome any deleterious hiccups in the proceedings. The audience worldwide will be voting for the winner, so the pressure is set to mount. There is a distinctly uncomfortable and lascivious aspect to these cooped-up characters as they interact, challenge and preen. Rats, imprisoned together, soon turn on each other and the close proximity and the things they have to do for public titillation, exacerbate the situation. The tension certainly ratchets up well.

If the stress becomes too onerous there is counselling help on tap 24 hours and Laura is driven to make use of the professional’s help.

We know early on that one person has been found dead and we are privy to police interviews with the producer, Michelle, whose baby this enterprise is. It is meant to be a world-beating project and it certainly turns out to be that.

This is a distinctly uncomfortable read, because we understand that there is gross manipulation – de rigueur at some levels in such shows – but it is the level of control and coercion that makes it increasingly hard to stomach. The interactions are messy and that is reflected in narrative style, as relationships and tempers start to fracture and implode.

I found the opening premise very gripping but as the contestants disappeared down their various engineered (and spontaneous) rabbit holes, and dangerous practices started to proliferate, ensnaring the contestants, brutalising them and engineering them onto specific trajectories, I began to feel quite alienated and increasingly turned off by the whole premise. It feels that there is enough manipulation in the world and I just don’t want to read about it at the level described here – but that is just my personal response to the novel and this novel will undoubtedly find enthusiastic readers. THE VILLA has been selected as Apple Books’ Audiobook of the Week, May 2023.

If you are tempted by this novel, then I can also suggest The Last Passenger by Will Dean which will  offer equal levels of suspense, tension and manipulation.

Tina for the TripFiction Team

Catch the author on Twitter @ruthywriter 

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