Click here to read reviewer Michael Leonard's take on Maestra.
Fifty Shades meets American Psycho meets The Talented Mr. Ripley in Hilton’s foray into the wealthy and entitled world of art with protagonist Judith Rashleigh, a young woman with admirable aspirations who falls on hard times and uses her beauty and wit to survive, even flourish. in a man’s exclusive world of power and commerce. As an aspiring buyer at one of London’s most prestigious art houses, Judith’s conscientious work efforts run afoul of her boss’s expectations, and she loses her job. Forced to rely on an alternative source of income at an exclusive men’s club, Judith relies on her beauty, manipulating a wealthy
but obese and unattractive man for a trip to the Riviera. Fate and opportunity strike; a new life begins. Fleeing the consequences of her benefactor’s misfortune, Judith takes advantage of her exotic environment to join a new acquaintance on his yacht, traveling along the Italian coast.
A quick learner who soon sheds her current assumed name for another, Judith grows accustomed to the trappings of wealth and privilege, learning as she goes, an asset to her host for her brains as well as her beauty. Her trajectory in this once-foreign world is born of expedience, a quick wit, and enough experience in the art world to pass as a woman born to this glamorous lifestyle. Moving from man to man, opportunity to opportunity, Judith is nothing if not clever, cautious, and irresistibly alluring, securing her position in each new set of circumstances and adapting quickly to any threat of danger or exposure as a fraud. Pretending to have continued her trip abroad to travel for a while, her flat rent in London is paid in advance, no loose ends left to interfere with the evolution of the woman Judith has decided to become: a sophisticated, knowledgeable traveler with an eye to eventually opening her own gallery. Judith has, she learns, a criminal’s instincts, her hunger for acquisition fueled by risk and sexual excitement; she dances with danger at each new step of her rebirth: “I could take the things others couldn’t and that meant I could do them too.”
This novel caters to the taste of the Fifty Shades of Gray crowd, the shocking eroticism of sexual excess gone mainstream, dressed for sport in designer lingerie, a libidinous fantasy of the lives of the rich, a “bad girl” strolling through the salons and boudoirs of the obscenely wealthy, beauty and sexuality her passport to the decadent, elite fleshpots of jaded sophisticates. The cunning minds of international businessmen are apparently blunted by female flesh in positions of submission, dominance, or abandon, shiny baubles who earn their perks behind closed doors, sexually accommodating men who wear them like accessories in a world grown bold in its egalitarian displays. The ugly need not apply: “Monogamy must be so much easier for the plain.” And the beautiful, desperate, and scheming Judith Rashleigh proves a match for any of these men, her appetites just as broad and greedy, her mind incisive even in the throes of passion.
Hilton is endlessly inventive with her protagonist’s solutions against discovery, a combination of brilliant planning and sexual prowess to beat anyone who presents an obstacle to her future in the new life she is creating. The locales are exotic, the entertainment lavish and extravagant, the best of everything described in meticulous detail, from the outfit to be worn to an expensive dinner to the accoutrements of seduction to be used in the sexual gymnastics of a woman who pursues sex like a man and makes no apologies. Her tastes are eclectic, to say the least, her descriptions so colorful and specific that they risk becoming boring, insatiable sexual greed matched only be a growing thirst for the anonymity and security of her own wealth. There is lots of action in this novel, from Judith’s encounters at each phase of reinvention to her impressive sexual exploits, though nothing is resolved at the end. This is, in fact, the first of a trilogy, so be prepared. For my part, this foray is sufficient, a little too much of everything to want more.