Why we love it: Fifty Shades, Ripley, Gone Girl, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo… The comparisons are inevitable. But they tend to miss the point because Maestra is an original and this new heroine, Judith Rashleigh, is too. Sure, there are elements of Amy Dunne, Lisbeth Sander, and Ripley, but Judith is her own woman – super-smart, independent and she gets exactly what she wants. Maestra is fun, intriguing, sexy, sometimes funny, sometimes stomach-churning and definitely not for the faint-hearted.
Judith Rashleigh works at one of London’s most prestigious auction houses; she’s dealing in the world’s finest art but her position is lowly. When we meet her on a London Underground platform, she’s broke and desolate so when she spots a girl she knew at school, she tries to avoid her. Judith Rashleigh wants to forget her upbringing in a northern working class city and Leanne, with her Liverpool accent, is a reminder of that past.
Leanne has a job as a hostess at a West End bar and offers Judith the chance to up her income. The money is fantastic and all she has to do is dress up and talk to rich, lonely guys. Judith can’t resist – it’s easy for her, and nothing compared to what she gets up to her in own time, at swinger parties. Soon she and Leanne are flying off to the French Riviera with an obese client – but that’s okay, he’s buying the $1k handbags and it’s not hard work. Until it all goes wrong when they slip him too many sedatives.
But Judith, ruthlessly calm under pressure, quickly sorts everything, putting Leanne on the next flight back to London. Deception quickly becomes a habit and the problem with some bad habits, once they become too easy – and thrilling – it’s hard to let them go. Soon Judith is putting unthinkable amounts of money into Swiss bank accounts and murder is becoming way too convenient. The fast-paced action moves from London, to the French Riviera, down the coast of Italy, to Geneva, and finally culminates on the streets of Paris and Venice.
Judith Rashleigh is a heroine sure to appeal to both male and female readers. Despite Judith’s ruthlessness, we’re on her side. She’s dragged herself up from her poor background and an alcoholic mother; gaining an Oxbridge education and exquisite good taste. But she realises that getting ahead in London requires more than the right accent and university, and once fired by from the auction house, she’s driven by revenge of her boss, upper class, thoroughly corrupt Rupert. She’s on a mission, and that mission involves only herself – anyone who gets in her way will be eliminated.
“I’d like to say I hadn’t meant to do it,” says Judith. “That I was reaching into the bag for cash and the gun just of jumped into my hand, your honour. The thing was, I really didn’t have the time. I could have given him a line, that it really wasn’t his lucky day, that he shouldn’t have made me angry, because he wouldn’t like me when I’m angry, but this wasn’t the moment for style, either. I leaned over the desk, shot him twice in the chest, tugged off my shoes and hit the Rue Thérèse running.”
A pacy, erotic, and page-turning thriller, Maestra is sure to have you hooked, but if you can’t wait to see how much more Judith Rashleigh can get away with, hold on for the next instalment.
L.S. Hilton is the respected historian and biographer known as Lisa Hilton. Earlier works include the acclaimed biography of Elizabeth I, Elizabeth, Renaissance Prince – a little different from the raciness of her first novel, Maestra. She has lived in Key West, New York City, Paris and Milan. She now works as journalist, art critic and broadcaster in London. In a recent opinion piece in the Guardian Hilton said of Maestra, “I merely attempted to write about a modern female character who is unapologetic about desire and who feels no shame or conflict about its fulfilment. I wanted to describe the things that adults do in the words that adults use.”
The story of Maestra’s path to publication is in itself a remarkable one. Initially rejected by Hilton’s own agent, once it found a publisher in the UK, the book went on to sell to the US market for a vast sum and the movie rights were snapped up by Hollywood before it was even published, rare for a debut novel. The film is now in pre-production and we can’t wait!