Craig Holden
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Buy *Matala* by Craig Holden online

Craig Holden
Simon & Schuster
192 pages
December 2007
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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Darkly exotic, threaded with a frisson of the forbidden, Matala begins innocently enough but quickly slides off the rails as Darcy Arlen, a voluptuous American on tour in Rome for one more night, steps from the stultifying confines of her group to walk the streets of the “real” city, free at last from the overprotective tour guide.

Noticing a handsome young man on the bridge she is crossing, Darcy stops and introduces herself, his face oddly familiar, compelling. Darcy and Will fall into easy conversation, stopping for dinner, making plans to meet later that night at a bar near his hostel.

Out of her element, the well-heeled Darcy has grown bored at nineteen, quite willing to pay for the meal (Will hasn’t eaten for two days) and sample whatever nightlife her new friend may provide. Although Will can hardly believe his eyes, Darcy does come to the cluttered, noisy wine bar, avidly joining the other drinkers.

Darcy is not yet aware that Will is traveling with a companion, the older, far more jaded Justine, who drinks near the bar, biding her time before approaching the girl. An experienced con artist, Justine has spent the last two years tutoring her sometimes-lover in the art of fleecing the unsuspecting victim.

Their fortunes much declined of late, Will has grown discontented, anxious about the future immediate and otherwise. Darcy is the perfect remedy - fresh and flush, an irresistible target for Will and Justine. Before long, Darcy falls under their spell, jettisoning her prepaid tour in favor of this new adventure.

Her attention awakened by sudden opportunity, Justine commits to one more job, arranging with a nefarious ex-husband to deliver a package to Crete before Christmas. Excited by the implied danger of such a trip, Darcy becomes a willing and much savvier victim than Justine realizes.

In a twisted tale where nothing is what it seems, Darcy obediently follows Justine’s directions, but with an agenda of her own that includes keeping Will exclusively for herself. From Rome to Venice, the Balkans and Crete, Darcy agreeably finances the journey, perched on the edge of discontent, her old life paling before this bizarre romp through countries, train stations, cafes and hotels, edgy with the danger of discovery. Justine temporarily sidelined before Crete, Darcy luxuriates in her new-found power, Will the girl’s cooperative slave.

Outside events converge as the trio enacts their own small drama from bar to bedroom, the devil inevitably demanding his due at Matala. In this sharp-witted, erotic novel of deceit and treachery, Holden spins an impressive web, innocence bartered for decadence, fate the step-child of expedience.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Luan Gaines, 2007

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