by L. S. Hilton

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A Note from the Author

With the cunning of Gone Girl’s Amy Dunne, and as dangerous as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’s Lisbeth Salander, the femme fatale of this Talented Mr. Ripley–esque psychological thriller is sexy, smart, and very, very bad in all the best ways.

By day, Judith Rashleigh is a put-upon assistant at a prestigious London art house.
By night, she’s a hostess at one of the capital’s notorious champagne bars, although her work there pales against her activities on nights off.

Desperate to make something of herself, Judith knows she has to play the game. She’s transformed her accent and taught herself about wine and the correct use of a dessert fork, not to mention the art of discretion. She’s learned to be a good girl. But when Judith is fired for uncovering a dark secret at the heart of the art world—and her honest efforts at a better life are destroyed—she turns to a long-neglected friend. A friend who kept her chin up and back straight through every slight: Rage.


Feeling reckless, she accompanies one of the champagne bar’s biggest clients to the French Riviera, only to find herself alone again after a fatal accident. Tired of striving and the slow crawl to the top, Judith has a realization: If you need to turn yourself into someone else, loneliness is a good place to start. And she’s been lonely a long time.

Maestra is a glamorous, ferocious thriller and the beginning of a razor-sharp trilogy that introduces the darkly irresistible Judith Rashleigh, a femme fatale for the ages whose vulnerability and ruthlessness will keep you guessing until the last page.

From the Hardcover edition.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780399184284
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 04/19/2016
Sold by: Penguin Group
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 219,370
File size: 657 KB

About the Author

L. S. Hilton is the author of the New York Times and internally bestselling novel Maestra and Domina. She grew up in England and has lived in Key West, New York City, Paris, and Milan. After graduating from Oxford, she studied art history in Paris and Florence. Hilton has worked as a journalist, art critic, and broadcaster, and is presently based in London.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One
If you asked me how it began, I could truthfully say that the first time, it was an accident. It was about six in the evening, the time when the city churns again on its axis, and though the streets above were full of the sharp wind of another piss-miserable May, the station was stuffy and humid, squalid with discarded tabloids and fast-food wrappings, irritable tourists in garish leisure wear crammed amid the resigned, sallow-faced commuters. I was waiting on the platform for the Piccadilly line at Green Park after another fabulous start to another fabulous week of being bullied and patronized at my super-fabulous job. As the train on the opposite side pulled away, a low collective groan rippled through the crowd. The board showed that the next Tube was stuck at Holborn. Someone on the tracks, probably. Typical, you could see people thinking. Why did they always have to top themselves at rush hour? The passengers across the line were moving off, among them a girl in crippling heels and an electric-blue bandage dress. Last season’s Alaïa via Zara, I thought. Probably on her way to the stinking tourist traps of Leicester Square with the other rube losers. She had extraordinary hair, a great cascading plum-colored mane of extensions with  some sort of gold thread bound through them that caught and held the neon light.

“Judeee! Judy! Is that you?" 

She started waving at me enthusiastically. I pretended not to hear.

“Judy! Over here!"

People were beginning to look. The girl had hobbled precariously close to the yellow safety stripe.

“It’s me! Leanne!"

“Your friend’s waving to you," said the woman next to me, helpfully.

“I’ll see you upstairs in a min!" I didn’t hear voices like hers very often anymore. I’d never expected to hear hers again. She obviously wasn’t going to disappear, and the train showed no sign of appearing, so I settled my heavy leather briefcase across my shoulder and pushed my way back through the crowd. She was waiting on the gangway between the platforms.

“Hiya! I thought it was you!"

“Hi, Leanne," I tried gingerly.

She tripped the last few steps toward me and threw her arms around me like I was her long-lost

“Look at you! Dead professional. I didn’t know you lived in London!" I didn’t point out that this was probably because I hadn’t spoken to her in a decade. Facebook friends weren’t really my style, nor did I need to be reminded, ever, of where I had come from.

Then I felt like a bitch. “You look great, Leanne. I love your hair."

“I don’t go by Leanne anymore, actually. It’s Mercedes now."

“Mercedes? That’s—nice. I use Judith mostly. Sounds more grown‑up."

“Yeah, well, look at us, eh? All grown up."

I don’t think I knew, then, what that felt like. I wondered if she did either.

“Listen, I’ve got an hour before work." Werk. “Do you fancy a quick drink? Catch up?"

I could have said I was busy, that I was in a rush, taken her number like I was actually going to call it. But where did I have to get to? And there was something in that voice, strangely welcome in its familiarity, that made me feel lonely and reassured at the same time. I had just two twenty-pound notes in the world, and there were three days before payday. Still, something might turn up.

“Sure,” I said. “Let me buy you a drink. Let’s go to the Ritz."

Two champagne cocktails in the Rivoli Bar, £38. I had twelve on my Tube card and two in hand.  I just wouldn’t have much to eat until the end of the week. It was stupid, maybe, to show off like that, but sometimes you need to show the world a bit of defiance. Leanne—Mercedes—fished enthusiastically with a fuchsia shellacked nail extension for the bobbing maraschino and took a cheerful slurp.

“That’s dead nice, thanks. Though I prefer Roederer now, myself."

Well, that served me right for being flash.

“I work round here," I volunteered. “Art. In an auction house. I do Old Masters." I didn’t, actually, but then I wasn’t sweating that Leanne would know a Rubens from a Rembrandt.

“Posh," she replied. She looked bored now, fiddling with the swizzle stick in her drink. I wondered if she was sorry she had called out to me, but instead of feeling annoyed I had a pathetic feeling that I wanted to please her.

“Sounds it,” I said confidentially, feeling the brandy and the sugar soothing their way into my blood, “but the pay’s crap. I’m skint, usually."

“Mercedes" told me she had been in London for a year. She worked in a champagne bar in St. James’s. “Reckons it’s classy, but it’s full of the same dirty old gits. Nothing dodgy,” she added hastily. “It’s only a bar. The tips are amazing, though."

She claimed she was making two grand a week. “Puts weight on you, though," she said ruefully, prodding her tiny belly. “All that drinking. Still, we don’t have to pay for it. Pour it into the plants if we have to, Olly says."

“He’s the owner. Eh, you should come down sometime, Judy. Moonlight a bit if you’re broke. Olly’s always looking for girls. D’you want another one?"

An older couple in black tie, probably on their way to the opera, took the table opposite us. The woman ran her eyes critically over Mercedes’s fake-tanned legs, her shimmering cleavage. Mercedes swiveled in her chair, slowly and deliberately uncrossed and recrossed her legs, giving me and the poor old bugger next to her a flash of black lace G‑string, all the time staring straight into the woman’s eyes. There was no need to ask if anyone had a problem.

“As I was saying," she said when the woman turned, beet-faced, to the cocktail menu, “it’s a laugh." Laff. “The girls are from all over. You could look smashing if you got a bit dolled up. Come on."

I looked down at my black tweed Sandro suit. Nipped‑in jacket, flippy little pleated skirt. It was meant to look knowingly coquettish, professional with a little Left Bank spin, at least that’s what I told myself when I clumsily mended the hems for the umpteenth time, but next to Mercedes I looked like a depressed crow.


“Yeah, why not? I’ve got loads of stuff in me bag."

“I don’t know, Leanne."



“Come on, you can wear my lace top. It’ll look ace with your tits. Unless you’ve got a date?"

“No,” I said, tipping my head right back to catch the last drops of bubbles and angostura. “No, I haven’t got a date."

Reading Group Guide

1. Discuss Judith’s childhood. How does her background shape her character?
2. At one point Judith reflects that “wealth creeps under your epidermis like poison. It invades your posture, your gestures, the way you carry yourself” (p. 112). Does wealth change Judith? Would she be different if she had been born rich? How does the novel portray people born into wealth?
3. Do you like Judith? Why or why not? What surprised you the most about her character?
4. Judith is never described physically in the novel. Why do you think this is? How do you picture her?
5. In the beginning of the novel Judith reveals, “Rage had always been my friend . . . Rage had kept my back straight; rage had seen me through the fights and the slights” (p. 64). At what points in the novel does Judith turn to rage? How does rage shape Judith’s decisions? Can you relate to her frustrations? Why or why not?
6. What does Renaud’s relationship with Judith reveal about her character? Did you guess where their relationship was going?
7. Discuss the portrayal of sex in the novel. How does Judith’s sexuality inform your understanding of her character? Would you react differently to the sex scenes if Judith were a man? Why or why not?
8. Judith is a woman who decides unapologetically to own herself—her body, her desires, her ambitions. In what ways does her character challenge conventional expectations for women? How did you feel reading her transgressive behavior? Is Maestra a feminist novel?
9. Judith relates to other women in a variety of ways throughout the novel. Were you shocked by how some of those relationships develop over the course of the novel?
10. On page 160, Judith tells us, “Later, I had a lot of time to think about when I’d made the decision. Had it been swelling inside me all along, waiting, like a tumor?” Was there one moment in the novel in which you saw her character change? If so, when? If not, why?


Sex, Murder, Shoes

Female transgression has a consistent theme in literature. From Troilus and Criseyde through Madame Bovary and Anna Karenina to London Fields, it's a constant that The Woman Always Pays. Perhaps Becky Sharpe, my favourite heroine of all, might be said to get away with breaking the rules, but then all she has to show for a lifetime's scheming at the end of Vanity Fair is a pot of rouge and the brandy bottle. When I started to write my heroine in Maestra, Judith Rashleigh, I was interested in what would happen if a woman was allowed to be bad not because she is an avenging angel a la Lisbeth Salander, not because she is bitter or traumatised, but because- well, because she can. No one ever asks James Bond about his emotions. It turned out that Judith is capable of being very bad indeed.

Maestra also addresses another key question, which is why sociopaths always have to be badly dressed. Coming from a background as an historical biographer, the novel was a joyful experience for me, and I wanted to convey some of the aspirational escapism that I had thrilled to when reading books such as Shirley Conran's Lace as a teenager. As Judith moves closer to her goals, the locations, and the clothes, become increasingly glamorous. But I dislike the gendered categorization of fiction, and my aim was also to engage male readers with its plot (it has boats, and oligarchs, and guns!). Judith might not be an ideal role model, but Maestra is very much a book about pleasure, sensual and aesthetic. I hope it will prove as much fun to read as it was to write.

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Maestra 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 12 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A friend recommended this book to me. She loved it. I thought It was just ok. Not sure if I will get the others in the series.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read all of the book maybe the last few chapters speed things up . I'm not sure if I will buy the next couple books.
feather_lashes More than 1 year ago
★★★½ Maestra is the first installment in an untitled erotic thriller trilogy authored by L.S. Hilton (Lisa Hilton). This novel follows the female lead: Judith as she navigates her bank account, social status, and her pleasure exactly where she sees fit. She exploits her sex appeal and manipulates people and circumstances to get what she wants - she is unapologetic and I loved that. Judith is a dark, driven woman with no shame. I believe this may be exactly the [extreme] point Ms. Hilton is trying to make in Maestra – men are no longer the only cutthroat individuals who climb over rules and people in order to meet their personal goals. Women are broadcasting their determined strength and offering no apologies for being the aggressor. Ms. Hilton's storytelling, while definitely choppy, held my attention and kept me engaged. There is A LOT of brand name-dropping and the art world is heavily incorporated throughout the storyline. Although erotica is not a genre I reach for often, I enjoyed this raw component simply for the representation of women embracing their sexuality. Judith said what, when, and where...and for the exception of when she (view spoiler) (gag), I didn't have a problem with the explicit content. I plan to continue this trilogy and hope to see Judith's history and thought processes fleshed out a little more. Maestra will likely be a love it or hate it experience for most readers but if you're willing to take the risk then check it out! My favorite quote: “There's a lot to be said for being bullied as a child. After all, as every misery memoir triumphantly confirms, you're only being picked on because you're special. You become isolated but also adamantine. I had learned a particular set to my spine, a disregard for the whispered taunts, even a kind of pleasure in them, because I told myself that it made me different, and then I'd just carried on believing it. Perhaps a therapist would have confessed it out of me, but I'd never had either the money or the interest, because that knowledge of pain became, in time, a source of defiance, a source – though I was embarrassed to even think the word – of strength. I could take things that others couldn't, and that meant I could do them, too. I had done this, and the relief was glorious.”
Ratbruce More than 1 year ago
This book is so well written and the characters so fully developed that I felt let down when it ended. Great story with unexpected twists.
Robynn More than 1 year ago
This book starts off very slow and I almost gave up. Lucky for me, the middle part of the book really starts to finally energize and the character starts unfolding. Good mystery. You never see any of it coming.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I do not want to reveal too much about this intricately plotted and suspenseful offering by L.S. Hilton. I am afraid that if I delve into the plot of this great book that it will discourage you from reading it as soon as possible. The portrayal of the main character is fascinating and absorbing while revealing what it takes for a woman to make it in today’s world. I am not saying that this novel is an accurate treatise on womanhood but it does make you think. The story is crazy wild and filled with explicit material but then again so is life. My advice – Go out today and buy Maestra and block out a few days to finish, you will not need more than that.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Worst book ever! Thought is was suppose to be better than 50 Shades. It was awful! Don't waste your time or effort here!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Thought this was supposed to be better than Fifty Shades of Gray! It wasn't! Hope next book is better. Overall was an okay read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
. Characters with depth, quickly paced and complex without being confusing. Fantastic read.