L.S. Hilton’s Maestra will be one of this year’s most talked-about novels, simply because of its explicit sex scenes. It’s one of the raciest mainstream books published in recent memory. The good news is that the British, Oxford-educated author not only writes well about sex, she writes well about everything. You could cut the sex scenes and Maestra would still be a fascinating novel about a young woman on the make. It just wouldn’t be as much fun.
...Maestra [is] a sensual, sweat-suffused thriller that begins as the story of Judith Rashleigh, an unassuming gallery assistant in London, and then, faster than the flick of a knife, shifts into a crash course in high fashion, luxury travel, and murders of convenience. It’s the speed of that turn that keeps Maestra engaging throughout, but Judith remains frustratingly distant, and that mires the novel in the realm of macabre wish fulfillment.
It’s hard to find much escapist fun in a book about a woman whose main attributes are deadly sins. Greed, lust, envy, pride and wrath — she’s got five of them covered, and perhaps even a little gluttony, if you count all the times Ms. Hilton lovingly describes the delicacies that slide down her heroine’s gullet. This is meant to make Judith a creature of insatiable appetites, which is meant to be alluring, especially since she keeps herself so saleably slim...But the hot stuff grows repetitive very quickly. And it begins to feel obligatory. Excitable as Judith is, she has a limited imagination, and she vents it at regularly timed intervals. By the time Maestra reaches its suspenseful conclusion — three little words, 'to be continued' — she seems to be running out of positions. With two books to go.
If Hilton is after money, no one can blame her. However, it would be so interesting if the very smart and clearly savvy writer had something else up her designer sleeve. The last line of Maestra is 'To Be Continued.' (That's not a spoiler; everyone knows it's a trilogy!) Might we see more of and a different side to Judith's rage? What if she has an amazing endgame? Hilton has put just enough on the intriguing side of her scales that many readers will keep following Judith's adventures. The real maestra of this novel isn't its main character, but its author.