If We Were Villains

"If We Were Villains" is a gripping novel by M.L. Rio, exploring the dark facets of friendship, obsession, and ambition within a Shakespearean theater troupe. Tragedy strikes when the line between performance and reality blurs, revealing the characters' hidden depths and secrets.
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M. L. Rio
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“If We Were Villains” is a gripping novel by M.L. Rio, delving into the dark world of Shakespearean tragedy. The story unfolds at an arts conservatory, exploring themes of friendship, rivalry, love, and the blurred lines between performance and reality.

About the Book:

American novelist M. L. Rio’s first book, If We Were Villains, was released by Flatiron Books in 2017. The majority of the book takes place in Oliver Marks’ fourth and final year at the Dellecher Shakespeare conservatory and centres on a murder case involving him. Oliver Marks was a previous actor at the conservatory. The novel is being adapted for television into a series.


It received a variety of reviews. According to the New York Times, it was “at once good and bad.”It was described as a “melodramatic, suspenseful debut novel” by Kirkus Reviews.It currently has a 4.2 star rating out of five on Goodreads. Numerous readers, including The Nest author Cynthia d’Aprix Sweeney, connected this book to Donna Tartt’s The Secret History.

“Readable, smart,” “Nerdily (and winningly) in love with Shakespeare.”

Review of New York Times Books

From the first page, draws the reader in.A compelling and well-written homage to the theatre…If We Were Villains will captivate readers with its intriguing, unconventional perspective on conflict, friendship, and truth and leave them considering the significance of our most important decisions and their repercussions.

Unknown Scene

“Rio’s debut mystery is an absorbing ride, echoing college-set books like Donna Tartt’s The Secret History and blending in enough Shakespearean theatre to qualify readers for the stage…Rio weaves a complex tale of loyalty, love, and friendship. Readers who appreciate literary fiction by authors like Tartt or Emily St. John Mandel are advised to read this book.

Review in Library Journal, starred

A group of Shakespeare students in the frightening story If We Were Villains are, in the words of the Bard, “a little more than kin, and less than kind”—especially after one of them suffers a terrible end. This is a page-turning literary thriller filled with friendship, treachery, and passionate devotion whose stunning ending you won’t soon forget.

Miranda Beverly-Whittemore, bestselling author of June and Bittersweet on the New York Times

“A story fit for the Bard himself…culminating in a stunning final turn. Recommend for people seeking “something like” Donna Tartt and readers with sophisticated literary interests.


“Interesting…a good mystery that keeps you turning the pages.”

Authors Weekly

Description of the Book:

M. L. Rio’s scintillating debut, which resembles Donna Tartt’s The Secret History in many ways, is a wonderfully layered tale of love, friendship, and obsession that “will keep you riveted through its final, electrifying moments.”

Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney, The Nest’s New York Times bestselling author

Shakespeare has me madly (and successfully) in love.clever and easily readable.

Book Review from the New York Times

The individual who imprisoned Oliver Marks is standing by the door on the day of his release. Oliver has waited ten years to reveal the truth, and Detective Colborne is now ready to hear it.

A decade ago: Oliver Is one of seven young Shakespearean actors at Dellecher Classical Conservatory, a place of keen ambition and fierce competition. In this secluded world of firelight and leather-bound books, Oliver and his friends play the same roles onstage and off: hero, villain, tyrant, temptress, ingénue, extras.

But in their fourth and final year, good-natured rivalries turn ugly, and on opening night real violence invades the students’ world of make-believe. In the morning, the fourth-years find themselves facing their very own tragedy, and their greatest acting challenge yet: convincing the police, each other, and themselves that they are innocent.

If We Were Villains was named one of Bustle’s Best Thriller Novels of the Year, and Mystery Scene says, “A well-written and gripping ode to the stage…A fascinating, unorthodox take on rivalry, friendship, and truth.

About the Author:

Years of experience working in theatres and bookstores have led M. L. Rio to pursue her MA in Shakespeare Studies at King’s College London. Her first book, If We Were Villains, is out now.

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