In crime books it’s natural to assume that the bad guy will be some sort of criminal or gangster and I have written those, but in the case of A Villa in Portofino my evil doer is a villainess - Gabriella De Stephano - who is definitely nothing to do with organised crime and would be horrified and astonished that anyone would consider her in that way. She is a woman with an obsession, and while many of the other characters in the book consider her to be rather cold and creepy, the only one who really thinks she is capable of evil is her cousin Alcinda – and frankly Alcinda is a bit of a drama queen, so no-one really takes her seriously.
When I began on the first draft of the book my idea was that the reader would see all Gabriella’s plots and plans but would not know her identity until the big revel at the end. I soon realised that creating three or four women who might fit the profile was going to be a complexity too far, and anyway by then Gabriella’s personality was coming through very strongly. No way was she going to let me hide her away. She would look down her very well preserved nose at the thought. So the reader gets to sit in the passenger seat and ride along as she plots to secure my heroine’s inheritance for herself.
Gabriella turned out to be a deeply entitled snob, with decided views on how a lady should dress and behave and a superior attitude to all the dreary little people that she perceives are surrounding her. Circumstances force her to be sly and subtle in the means she uses, and I hope readers will get the same frisson of alarm at knowing what she is about to do as I got in writing her. Gabriella is wealthy and spoiled and determined to have her own way – but she is also deluded by her family history - a somewhat isolated and lonely figure because of that deep seated sense of superiority - and perhaps, at the end of the book, a slightly sad one, despite everything she has done.
It’s up to the readers to decide where they stand on that one.