Saturday, 23 April 2016

Maestro by L.S. Hilton

L.S. Hilton is apparently an established writer of historical fiction and Meastra is something of a novel foray for her. I must confess to never having read any of her other works so I can't judge how well Maestra stands up in comparison, but as a thriller - it's billed as something of a hybrid Fatal Attraction/The Talented Mr Ripley/American Psycho/Fifty Shades of Gray - it left me a little cold.

Judith Rashleigh is a lowly assistant at a prestigious auction house. She loves art and dreams of being something big in the art world. Unfortunately, she's bumping up against a glass ceiling of social snobbery and sexism. One day she spots a fake painting being passed off as the real thing but when she reports her suspicions to her unctuous boss, she's sacked for her troubles. So what's a girl to do?

Well, first she takes on a night job in a dodgy hostess bar where she attracts the attention of an obese, sugar daddy. With him she flies to the south of France on an all expenses holiday, having persuaded him to also bring her friend. Here we have our first Fifty Shades moment where she has to do the inevitable and perform oral sex on her benefactor, but thankfully she has a plan to avoid such inconveniences too often. Her friend has brought tranquillizers and their plan is to knock him out while they hit the town.

Of course things go wrong and Mr Sugar Daddy dies. Cue quick thinking by our heroine who manages to get herself and her friend out of trouble in the nick of time. Judith carts her friend off back to Blighty and goes on a tour of Italy, quickly falling in with a world of super rich oligarchs, their yachts, and the beautiful rich playthings who hang from their arms.

One of the problems with Maestra is that wears its influences so obviously on its arm. We have The Talented Mr Ripley with Judith flitting between worlds, chameleon like. We have American Psycho with her wry observations of the innermost thoughts and fears of those around her. We have Fifty Shades of Gray with graphic sex and erotica. But whereas these all did their tasks admirably - yes, even Fifty Shades of Gray, which while I haven't read it myself, seems to have hit the mark with those seeking soft porn - Maestra just stretches itself thin.

But putting aside some of the lurid press which has portrayed Maestra as erotica, I would say biggest influences on this novel are The Talented Mr Ripley and American Psycho. The author does a pretty good attempt at emulating the adventures of Ripley, with Judith successfully wriggling her way into the lives of all those she meets, though Ripley with his narcissism is far the more compelling character. The author's attempt at American Psycho however is far less convincing. Judith is not the out and out psychopath of Jason Bateman but Maestra attempts a similar trick to Brett Easton Ellis's classic in that it attempts to say something profound about all that is wrong in the world. But whereas Bateman vividly reflected the moral bankruptcy of Wall Street, Maestra's portrayal of the world of the Uber rich is far from convincing. I can't say whether the world she paints really exists, it might, but I was left with the impression that it was more a product of her mind. While I'm sure there are billionaires behaving badly, I'm equally convinced that many are as boring as anyone.

Lurid, sensational and salacious, Maestra is certainly lots of fun. But it quickly proves shallow and unsatisfactory, and despite all the sex, just a little tiresome.

3 out of 5 stars.            

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