Colleen Mondor Reviews Diavola by Jennifer Thorne – Locus Online

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Colleen Mondor Reviews Diavola by Jennifer Thorne – Locus Online


cover of diavola by thorneDiavola, Jennifer Thorne (Nightfire 978-1-250-82612-1, $27.99, hc, 304pp) March 2024. Cover by Judy Jung.

In Jennifer Thorne’s hilarious, scary, brilliant, and all too easily identifiable novel, Diavola, advertising illustrator Anna is determined to be a good daughter, get along with everyone and do what it takes to make her family’s Italian vacation successful. Her parents have paid for two weeks in a villa near the tiny village of Monteperso, her control freak sister is there with her husband and two daughters, and her twin brother, Benny, has brought along his new boyfriend to round out the group. They are all going to have a good time, period. But as Anna quickly realizes, the villa is haunted and unfortunately, they all might die.

Almost from the moment she arrives, Anna fig­ures out everything is not quite right. The hallway upstairs to the tower room is locked, and yet she sees someone in the tower window, and everyone occasionally hears scratching in the walls near the locked door. (This is when folks start to think there might be an animal trapped.) (It is never an animal!!!!) As her parents point out her personal and professional shortcomings, her sister Nicole relentlessly schedules their every moment, and Benny’s boyfriend, Christopher, makes sure ev­eryone knows his job is important and he must be in constant contact with his office, Anna slips into survival mode of paying less attention to what is going on around her so as to not lose her temper. (Thorne includes a cheeky warning that states ‘‘May invoke feelings of irritation, dread, and despair that come with large family gatherings.’’)

Then Nicole is pushed into the pool and blames her daughter, even though the child insists it was not her (which Anna believes), all the food in the villa rots in stunning speed (left on the counter in the morning, covered in maggots by afternoon), they return home one day to find all the furniture flipped over and the bookshelves emptied in a bizarre case of destructive interior designing and yes, of course, voices are heard in empty hallways. (FYI, this happened in the haunted house I lived in as well.) And then there are the cryptic comments from the locals and furtive looks when they realize where the family is staying. Everyone, it appears, knows about the villa, but no one will tell them why. (Also, a goat has been tied to a tree on the driveway for no particular reason. Dear reader, it is safe to assume there is a reason.) (Spoiler alert: The goat does not die!)

Everyone realizes something is going on, with Anna insisting they relocate immediately. But here’s the thing: Her father paid a lot of money for that villa and he just knows he won’t get a refund! And Nicole has planned so many activities! And Benny can’t help but think Anna is just blowing things out of proportion because she doesn’t have a great boyfriend! And her mother is convinced she is simply trying to get attention like she did on that other family vacation twelve years ago when she stayed out late, slept with a bartender, and had them all so worried the next day! They do not leave the villa. Things take a turn for the worse. Everyone pretends everything is going great. (‘‘Ignore the weirdness,’’ writes Thorne. ‘‘The weirdness never happened. Just remember the pretty bits.’’) Oh, families. That desire to have the perfect vacation really can override all common sense, can’t it? (I haven’t even told you about the lost day, or how everyone just nods sagely to each other and agrees that forgetting a day is perfectly fine while Anna looks on in horror.)

I LOVED THIS BOOK! Diavola is the right amount of spooky (and it does get downright deadly) but more importantly, Thorne nails a ridiculous sort of upper-middle-class family dynamics so well. The parents cannot stand the thought of wasting money, no matter how vola­tile the situation. (‘‘We’ve put a lot of effort into this,’’ says Dad. ‘‘A lot of money.’’) The sister is certain Anna is just trying to find a way to steal her husband or ruin their vacation. (Doesn’t she understand how difficult it was to get the dinner reservations at the exclusive restaurant?!), and Benny, who initially acts as peacemaker, embraces an opportunity to grab some positive attention at Anna’s expense, because, well, of course he does. That things do not end conveniently when they eventually flee the villa (of course they flee the villa!), makes for an excellent twist and the ending, and where it takes Anna, is truly a surprise. (I must admit, I was very happy to see the nieces make a late reappearance in the plot.) I can’t imagine bet­ter poolside reading than Diavola, it might even make you appreciate your own family a bit more, while committing to a group plan to flee early on any dubious, dangerous, or deadly vacation rental.


Colleen Mondor, Contributing Editor, is a writer, historian, and reviewer who co-owns an aircraft leasing company with her husband. She is the author of “The Map of My Dead Pilots: The Dangerous Game of Flying in Alaska” and reviews regularly for the ALA’s Booklist. Currently at work on a book about the 1932 Mt. McKinley Cosmic Ray Expedition, she and her family reside in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. More info can be found on her website: www.colleenmondor.com.

This review and more like it in the May 2024 issue of Locus.

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