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Posted on 14 Jun 2016 in Crime Scene |

Crime Scene: LS HILTON Maestra. Reviewed by Lou Murphy

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maestraA new femme fatale is born in Maestra, an addictive erotic thriller set against the glamorous backdrop of the European art world.

Meet Judith Rashleigh: sexy, educated, poised. By day she is employed as a junior art expert at British Pictures, one of London’s best art auction houses. By night, she becomes something quite different, slipping into the seductive alter ego of Lauren and moonlighting at the Gstaad Club, a champagne bar. Here, she entertains the male clientele in a surprisingly chaste fashion, the men content with the manufactured flirtations and over-priced champagne on offer.

Judith’s introduction to the club has come about from a chance encounter with an old school acquaintance, Leanne – AKA Mercedes – who also works there. The idea of chance, cause and effect is a recurring theme of Maestra:

… I read somewhere that cause and effect are safeguards against contingency, against the terrifyingly inaccurate mutability of chance … choices are made before explanations, whether or not we care to know it …

Judith enters into the double life of the club flippantly, initially enjoying the contrast with her dogsbody position at British Pictures. Sheer hard work and determination have propelled her pursuit of a career in the art-world. But it seems no matter how hard she works, the edifice of class is not so easily overcome and her hard-earned expertise is destined to be forever undervalued. As a child she was the victim of bullying, and grew up in a housing estate with an alcoholic mother. Her rough beginnings have instilled in her a defiant, class-based envy. Juicy descriptions of upper-class jaunts throng with ironic details and are delivered with cutting cynicism:

… Pudding was a rose petal parfait in a violent cerise nitroglycerined gelée, sculpted into such a perfectly realistic flower that we might have been eating the arrangements. Perhaps we were …

Bond girl. Ice-queen. Chameleon. Judith’s unhappy childhood has fragmented her personality in such a way that transformation has become second nature to her. After being fired from her job at British Pictures by the mastermind of an art fraud that she uncovers, she embarks on a dangerous journey of revenge. Outwardly she appears ever calm and poised. Internally, however, she is pretty much making it up as she goes along. Deliciously so. Her half-baked plans take her and Leanne to Nice, accepting an all-expenses-paid holiday with uber-rich James – AKA Fatty – one of Judith’s regulars from the Gstaad Club. Judith grimly accepts that (unlike at the Gstaad Club) sex will be part of the deal:

… I had done a lot of stuff sexually. Most of it I’d liked, and some I hadn’t, but I’d forced myself, sometimes from curiosity and sometimes because I wanted to know what I could take. Girls and boys and threesomes and moresomes; sometimes I’d been scared and sometimes hurt, but it was the only real power I’d ever had and I wanted to test its limits. Each of those acts had been another veneer on the enamel of my strength; this was just one more. Nothing. I pushed my hair away and took it in my mouth and he came in about twenty seconds, a little mucus drop that I knocked back like medicine. Kerching …

Judith’s hard-edged views on sex as a means to an end run parallel with her own voracious appetites. Love, for Judith, is an abstract concept. Desire and love do not go hand-in-hand. She has no limits when it comes to exploring the gloriously filthy orgies on offer to her as she parties her way from France to Italy, mingling with and manipulating mega-rich Eurotrash to pay her way.

LS Hilton expertly weaves erotica into the sexist, superficial and moneyed Euro-aesthetic, delivering arousing morsels with tantalising repugnance. Her unique, often humorous take on pop culture exposes the inherent narcissism of brand obsession and social status, the self-absorption that allows people to behave in often callous ways: ‘Sedatives and slimming pills: French doctors are so obliging. That’s why French women don’t get fat …’

As Judith’s circumstances push her deeper into dangerous territory, the chasm between who she was and who she is becoming pushes her to make some very unsavoury decisions. She must take ever more elaborate steps to reinvent herself as her journey pushes her further into darkness. The language is sparse, pared back to match Judith’s hard-edged female drive. But there’s something there – in the disparaging, dismissive tone – that reveals a core of hardened vulnerability, propelled by unleashed rage. In the face of a series of chilling acts, executed with brutal force, Judith proves herself to be as clever as she is brazen.

Maestra is a gritty, unpredictable, erotic tour de force that leaves us gasping for the next instalment of the trilogy.

LS Hilton Maestra Zaffre 2016 PB 352pp $29.99

Lou Murphy is the author of the crime novel Squealer, available from http://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/LouMurphy.

You can buy this book from Abbey’s at a 10% discount by quoting the promotion code NEWTOWNREVIEW here or you can buy it from Booktopia here.

To see if it is available from Newtown Library, click here.