Maestra is billed as the “most shocking thriller of the year”, which I thought was a bit early to say considering it came out very early this year in March. Although who am I to say, since The Girl on the Train came out in January 2015 and still seems to be doing relatively well in the market? Maestra did get picked up for a movie much quicker than The Girl on the Train did, and it will be an easier sell — the book does contain sex, money, and murder, and isn’t that easily marketable?
Originally released in the UK by independent publisher Zaffre (an imprint of Bonnier Publishing), Maestra is written by L. S. Hilton, an Oxford graduate of English who also studied Art History in Florence and Paris. From my Google research, I can deduce that she is more widely known for her historical fiction and biographies which are published as being written by Lisa Hilton. Her Maestra pseudonym was taken under the advisement of its publisher, to separate her historical reputation from this erotic thriller1.
I have not read her other books, but again, we can surmise that the woman has had practise in the art of writing with the seven or so previously published books in her list of works. I point this out because Maestra will be and is already often compared to the infamous Fifty Shades of Grey because of its erotic content, but I find this a disservice to the book — Maestra is better in leaps and bounds. The writing does not make me cringe or suffer from secondhand embarrassment, for instance, as it does not have the feel of fanfiction, which is what I was having flashes of in the first chapter of the book mentioned above. The narration starts with a prologue which is right in the thick of the, ahem, sensual action. ‘What? What?? What the fuck?!’ is what was running through my head after that. But if one had any misgivings that this might turn out to be Fifty Shades, the prologue dispelled all those notions immediately.
Our heroine Judith is a young English lady in her late twenties struggling in London. She has the sparkling educational credentials making her more than suitable for the job role she currently occupies, but she is stuck being the grunt with a measly pay (of course) because she has no pedigree. In the art world that Judith lives in, you are either an insider or an outsider, and being an insider means knowing the right people to take you to great heights; unfortunately, she is the latter. To a degree, these are the usual features of the average London citizen.
But despite being at a disadvantage due to her lack of finances and contacts, Judith is a survivor, and an ambitious one to boot. Her seeming ordinariness ends there, as she is not above manipulation, deceit, and murder to keep herself alive and achieve what she wants. A perfect Slytherin! She is actually both villain and heroine in the book, but she never made me abhor her despite her unremorseful manipulation and criminal tendencies. She knows what she wants and what satisfies her.
Which leads us to the topic of the sex portrayed in the novel! Judith is not naive or demure, and her tastes are a bit out of the norm. If you think Christian Grey was into kinky, rough sex, I reckon Judith would actually be the one leading and teaching him what to do, if she even had the patience for that! This is a woman that loves sex immensely, and she only has time for great sex. Girl wouldn’t have time for Grey’s games.
These sexy bits are peppered in the novel in small amounts, although there are people of the opinion that they could have been left out altogether. That may be true, but shock factor delivery aside, if male protagonists can get random romantic interludes, why can’t a woman have that too? This is a lady who loves the good things in life, including mind-blowing sex, and I’m not going to begrudge any female of that, whether they be fictional or not! 😉
As for the novel in general, I felt that a substantial part of it involved Judith running away from a perceived crime, trying to remain under police radar while surviving with limited, stolen cash. I could somewhat understand that the fear had driven her to the activities that filled up this part, but halfway through, we get back on the trail of art fraud, which was a premise presented early on in the story. The resolution of this takes the other half of the novel, and it felt random and somewhat disjointed from the previous bit. The art fraud arc involved dealing with Italian mafia and police mafia, money stashed in secret offshore accounts, and murder. All the usual great ingredients of a mystery thriller were there, and it definitely kept me turning the pages. I was completely sucked into the story, wanting to find out whether Judith will finally be able to live in relative peace as she builds up a new life with a new identity, despite the body count climbing.
Looking back at it now though, it feels like the story wasn’t as tight as it should be. There are definite holes that you can pluck and point out if you want to get down to analysing it. It felt very much like when I read I Am Pilgrim — a great page turner, but a bit plot-holey. Google search on the author revealed that this is the first book in a trilogy, and I wonder whether the author originally wrote it that way, or whether she had to stretch it out due to publication/movie obligations. It might have been better to have kept it as one book, but I reserve judgment until we get the rest of it. A blogger friend did mention that it reminds her a lot of Patricia Highsmith, and that The Talented Mr. Ripley got better in the succeeding books, so here’s hoping Maestra goes along the same vein!
Maestra is published in the US by G.P. Putnam’s Sons, an imprint of Penguin Books USA.
“Choices are made before explanations, whether or not we care to know it.”
– L. S. Hilton
see ratings explanation
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Many thanks to the G.P. Putnam’s Sons team for sending a copy (the blue cover jacket) across the pond to the UK when I won their Instagram giveaway. I also purchased the UK edition (the red cover jacket) personally because I wanted cover comparison. Life of a book lover-slash-hoarder!