Death at the Villa Tarconti: An SAT Vocabulary Novelette

Lucy scrimped and saved to attend a Tuscan writer’s retreat. 

Now that she’s arrived? 

Life has begun to imitate art as — one by one — her fellow writers succumb to the dastardly fates penned by a mystery novelist. 

Now Lucy must unmask the killer…before she becomes the next victim. 

Studying for the SAT doesn’t have to be so hard.

Our brains are biologically wired to learn through stories. Why not make them interesting? Kicking mountains of flashcards and tedious study guides to the curb, Death at the Villa Tarconti plants more than 60 potential SAT/ACT words in your brain before you even know what’s happened.

Read a Snippet (The Real Version Has Definitions at the Bottom of Each Page)

A small part of me wasn’t at all saddened by Norm’s death. He’d been a lecherous old man, and I’d only known the guy a few days. When he heard I was from Texas, his only reaction was to look me up and down, then ask if I’d ever been a cheerleader for the Cowboys. 

“You’ve got the figure for it,” he winked. 


Naturally, I kept these emotions to myself. I was alone in a foreign country, and the last thing I needed was for people to think I was some sort of sociopath. 

And yet the circumstances of his death…well, I wouldn’t wish them on anyone. Not even Norm. 

I shivered, adjusting the scarf I’d draped over my shoulders. 

Enough of this melancholia. I was seated on an impossibly comfortable, cream-colored couch, my feet discreetly propped atop a wooden coffee table, and a merry fire crackled in the stone fireplace to my left. 

Outside the aging windows before me, the rolling hills of Tuscany stretched for miles. The only other edifice in sight was another aging villa, perched on one of the hills in the distance. It was early October — not too hot, not too cold — and the air was crisp and fresh. 

Who could imagine that such unspeakable violence could occur somewhere so beautiful?

I snorted, immediately realizing what a foolish thought that was. The Romans were some of the most bloodthirsty people in history. These hills had seen plenty of violence, from ancient times through the Renaissance, the Italian independence movement through two world wars. 

“Does something amuse you?” a sardonic voice to my right asked. 

The speaker was a man slightly older than I, late twenties probably, with tousled brown hair that had started to turn golden in the Italian sun. 

His dress was country casual — khakis and a white shirt opened at the collar, sleeves rolled to his elbows. I knew from our previous exchanges — all equally acrimonious — that he was British, and his name was Jack. 

“Not at all,” I replied. “Just…something in my throat.” 

I returned my attention to the leather-bound notebook in my lap. It wasn’t as practical as my laptop, but it matched the surroundings better. I hadn’t written a word in an hour, though I was supposed to be penning a bestselling novel. 

That’s why we were here, by the way. It was a writing retreat, and I’d scrimped and saved for years to attend, saving dollar by dollar as a teaching assistant during the school year, waiting tables during the summer, even babysitting at night. 

The trip still wiped out my paltry savings account, but I was here. In Italy. A land in which I have no ancestral roots, but that I’ve dreamed of since childhood. 

“I’m going for a walk,” I announced, though Jack and I were the only ones in the room. “Do you need anything?”

He stretched, shirt tightening across his admirable musculature. “I’ll join you, if I may. None of us should be alone right now.” 

I narrowed my eyes. “What do you mean?”

“Come on, Lucy. Surely you’ve reasoned it out.” 

Jack closed his notebook, leaving a fountain pen in the crease, and rose to join me at the doorway. 

I was certain he’d stopped speaking at that enigmatic point intentionally, hoping to provoke me into wild speculation about heaven knows what. 

Au contraire,” I remarked flatly. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

Jack lowered his voice. “A knife in the ribs doesn’t happen on accident. Norm was murdered, obviously.”

“So the police, and everyone else, immediately concluded,” I noted.

“But by whom, is the essential question?” Jack continued. “The police haven’t yet caught the killer.”

“It could’ve been anyone,” I said with a sweeping hand. “A junkie — they have them in Italy too. A thief. Who knows?”

“On the grounds of the Villa Tarconti? Yes, I know what the police said — it was far from the house, at night. Anyone could’ve snuck in. But do you truly believe that?” His eyes bore directly into mine, absent of all the banter and sarcasm I’d already come to associate with him. 

“What are you saying, Jack?” Once again I pulled my scarf closer. 

“I am saying, my dear girl, that there is a killer in our midst.”

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