About the Book
Oliver Marks has just served ten years for the murder of one of his closest friends – a murder he may or may not have committed. On the day he’s released, he’s greeted by the detective who put him in prison. Detective Colborne is retiring, but before he does, he wants to know what really happened ten years ago. As a young actor studying Shakespeare at an elite arts conservatory, Oliver noticed that his talented classmates seem to play the same roles onstage and off – villain, hero, tyrant, temptress – though Oliver felt doomed to always be a secondary character in someone else’s story. But when the teachers change up the casting, a good-natured rivalry turns ugly, and the plays spill dangerously over into life. When tragedy strikes, one of the seven friends is found dead. The rest face their greatest acting challenge yet: convincing the police, and themselves, that they are blameless.
If We Were Villains is a crime novel with a difference. I have never read a novel before where the characters from a playwright’s plays have such a significant role. That playwright is William Shakespeare.
Oliver is in his final year at the Dellecher Classical Conservatory alongside the six friends he has become very close to. All the seven have different personalities and all have different backgrounds. Most of them were privileged and spoilt but distant from their families. For the first three years they were at the college I got the impression that they were close but as they entered their final year rivalry and petty arguments have damaged the group dynamic and it isn’t long before there is a sinister and unsettling atmosphere that threatens everybody and everything. When one of the seven is found dead, the situation worsens.
Like many, I studied Shakespeare at school and I have seen a handful on the stage since. The play that most of this book concerns I did not know, even though I did know a few of the quotes. But not knowing the play didn’t stop my enjoying the book. I was mesmerised at how the play seemed to possess the young actors. I could see the power, greed and misery that Shakespeare’s characters experienced also affect the actors who played them.
One of the strongest characters in the book was also the most dislikeable. A bully who would hurt any who got in his way. There were others I wasn’t keen on for a variety of reasons. The character I liked most probably appeared less than any of the others.
I liked the book a lot but it is probably one that I would enjoy more on a second read. I would like to read it with the plays that are mentioned next to me so I can really get to know the roles that were being played by the group of friends whose lives all changed in that final year.
With thanks to Titan Books for the copy received.