The (Very) Dark Side of London’s Art Scene

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It’s no secret that I cannot resist a good thriller. So, when I was perusing theSkimm during a lull at work and the girls were touting L.S. Hilton’s Maestra as “The Talented Mr. Ripley Meets The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” you better believe I pre-ordered.

I love me some Gwyneth and I loved The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (though I hated the movie and couldn’t get through the second book), so it seemed like a natural fit. When I found out the book took place within the posh world of London’s finest art houses, I was practically bursting with excitement in anticipation of receiving it; art history has always been a serious interest of mine. When I finally got the copy in my hands and opened it to the dedication “To The Norse God of Everything, with thanks,” my excitement wavered a bit. Suffice it to say, the book did not turn out entirely as expected and it is certainly not for the prudish or faint of heart.

Maestra opens with our protagonist, Judith, struggling to maintain her pride in her job as an underling in British Pictures at one of London’s finest art houses (given the frequent references to “London’s two houses,” one must assume that Hilton is referring either to Christie’s or Sotheby’s). Judith essentially functions as a maid, not an employee, for her round and red-faced boss, Rupert. When, during a routine background check on one of the house’s artworks, Judith recognizes the portrait of an English Master as a fake, she triumphantly takes the discovery to her boss—who, to her shock, proceeds to fire her. Thus begins a tour of the seedy underground art world and its most immoral patrons.

Exiled from the world she spent her life working to gain entry to, Judith seeks solace in the world of “underground clubs”—clubs which married men come to spend a romantic evening with a woman who is not their wife (the girls never sleep with the men; they simply spend time talking to them over the ludicrously expensive bottles of champagne that keep the operation running). When she ends up on a trip to the French Riviera with a man from the club who takes a particular shine to her, she finds herself in the midst of a murder scandal—and the rest of book chronicles her struggles to stay alive.

The final verdict? While I tore through this book, I also skipped nearly all of the graphic sex scenes, and while a few of them contained plot points central to the story, they were mostly gratuitous. In sum, don’t recommend this one to your mom, but if you’re looking for something quick, dark and admittedly captivating, Maestra is the just the ticket.

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