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Maestra by L.S. Hilton
Paperback $16.00
Apr 04, 2017 | ISBN 9780399184277

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“A radical heroine. She deploys a uniquely female arsenal…weaponizing femininity…It’s hard not to feel vicariously empowered by a woman unapologetically in pursuit. Let’s call her the Sheryl Sandberg of sociopaths, leaning in to the hilt.”O, The Oprah Magazine
“One of this year’s most talked-about novels. . . . More mayhem, more art—and certainly more sex—lie ahead for insatiable Judith.”The Washington Post 
“This year’s most erotic novel. . . . Unapologetic, confident and quite the sociopath, protagonist Judith Rashleigh is no Anastasia Steele.”New York Post
“[A] shopathon travelogue thriller that has billionaires, art world scheming, and a sociopathic heroine who can unfasten belt buckles with her teeth.”The New York Times

“An unpredictable London auction-house assistant turned high-class escort slips effortlessly into the world of the glamorous and wealthy, crossing international borders and leaving destruction in her wake.”The Wall Street Journal
“The European art world mixes with an underground world (hint: sex parties). This thriller is like The Talented Mr. Ripley meets The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Warning: it’s VNSFW. That V is for very.” —The Skimm

 “[J]ubilantly mordant…A twenty-first-century femme fatale as lethal as Tom Ripley and as seductive as Bacall.” –Vogue
“Ever since Gillian Flynn dominated the book club circuit (and the big screen) with her psychological thriller Gone Girl, everyone’s been waiting for the next mystery to sink their teeth into. [Maestra] is it..”—InStyle

“A taut, meaty thriller . . . Judith Rashleigh’s single-minded and self-centered quest for wealth and acceptance could well be the most compelling since Patrick Bateman’s.”—Chicago Review of Books

“As readable as any crime thriller, but also clearly belongs in the literary tradition of Moll Flanders and Vanity Fair.”—Sunday Times (UK)

“Meet Judith, an art-house assistant who’ll make you root for the bad girl once you really get to know her.”—Marie Claire

“Thank the book gods that L. S. Hilton’s Maestra is only the first installment in a series.”—Redbook

“Hurry up and read this R-rated psychological thriller before it hits the big screen—it’s already been optioned by Columbia Pictures. Think 50 Shades of Grey meets The Talented Mr. Ripley.”—

“Delicious escapism—I loved it!”—Clare Mackintosh, author of I Let You Go

“[A] deliciously Highsmithian thriller…As Judith assumes and sheds identities as effortlessly as her Louboutins during a twisty series of increasingly treacherous escapades, Hilton artfully conjures a glossy world where just about everything—and everyone—has its price.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Delicious…at once glamorous, edgy, decadent, erotic, and irresistible. Judith is just full of surprises. She is ruthless and yet vulnerable…[Maestra] is a gift for readers who delight in vengeful female protagonists.”—Booklist (starred review)

“Utterly un-put-down-able, a shocking and sexy psychological thriller.”—Popsugar

Author Q&A

1.Tell us a bit about your life before you became a novelist. When did you start writing?

I published my first short story when I was eleven years old, in the British teen magazine Jackie. Then I took about fourteen years off, but it was never a doubt for me that writing was what I would do. Perhaps the significant change was in moving from nonfiction (I had previously written historical biography) to fiction. I think history is an excellent form of training for a novelist.

2.How did the title of the novel come about? What is its significance?

Maestra was the name given to Artemisia Gentileschi, the artist who inspires Judith, when she became a member of the guild of painters in Florence—the first woman to do so. In English, the word also has connotations of “maestro,” the name given to orchestra conductors, that is, to someone who is capable of maintaining complex narratives simultaneously. The resonance of the word made it an obvious title for the book.

3.Judith has been compared to many famous literary figures—Lisbeth Salander, Amy Dunne, Hannibal Lecter, Tess of the d’Urbervilles, Tom Ripley, American Psycho’s Patrick Bateman, Becky Sharpe. Were you inspired by a particular writer or character? How did you find Judith’s voice?

Becky Sharpe is perhaps my favorite literary heroine, but I wasn’t consciously trying to pay homage to any one character. Judith was in my head in one way or another for years, so when I began the story I “heard” her very clearly. The comparisons are very flattering, but I hope readers will find their own paradigms for her character.

4.Maestra is full of rich details about art. Do you have a background in the art world? Do any of your own experiences appear in the novel?

I studied art history and was (briefly and highly unsuccessfully) an intern in an auction house. Though I should emphasize that this is very much a work of fiction! I have written quite a lot about art as a critic, and it’s a topic to which I have returned in my nonfiction work often. I suppose the aspect of my own experience that I share with Judith is that sense of “falling into” a painting, of there always being something else to see, to discover.

5.What kind of research did you do for the book?

Much of the research was quite practical. I found a volunteer to act as a “corpse” because I wanted to feel what it would be like, as a woman, to try to move the weight of a heavy man. I flew to Geneva to interview a banker, and spoke to a former member of the British armed services to get the details of the gun right. I was lucky enough to spend time on some pretty glamorous boats, too…

6.When you began writing Maestra, did you know just how far Judith would go? Was there anything that surprised you while developing her character?

Judith’s story came to me as a series of logical problems; each development in the narrative, and in her character, is a response to circumstance. I wasn’t sure quite where she was going, and I found myself surprised by where she ended up, but I felt that it was correct for her character, particularly as events become more complex and extreme toward the end.

7.What was your motivation for creating such an unconventional female protagonist?

It seemed to me that there are a set of rules about what women can and can’t do in fiction. For example, sexual liberation is often “permitted” only as a correlative of trauma. I was also surprised by the fact that while crime fiction frequently perpetrates the most appalling horrors on women’s bodies, a woman who unapologetically enjoys her own physicality is seen as transgressive. I also think that women in fiction are constricted by a perceived need for emotional reaction: no one ever asks James Bond how he feels about anything!

8.Do you see yourself in Judith?

We share a birthplace and a love of clothes! I think that I do see some of myself in her, yes. There’s a lot about frustration in the book, about being unable to get ahead no matter how hard you try, and that’s something I certainly identified with when I was in my twenties.

9.There are some truly shocking scenes in the novel. Tell us about the role of violence in Maestra. Were any scenes difficult for you to write?

Weirdly, before this I published in the UK a historical novel set in the thirteenth century that contains a fictionalized account of a woman imprisoned and starved to death by King John. She tried to keep herself alive by eating the corpse of her own son. That really happened, so in a sense I was prepared for the violence in this book by some of the scenes I had had to describe from history. Judith is quite practically minded, she is not excited by violence for its own sake—it’s a necessity, not an attraction. It was more the logistics of it that concerned me, trying to be precise about how such things might be done.

10.Fashion is clearly important to Judith. How does her relationship to clothing evolve throughout the novel? Does fashion play a part in your own life?

Clothes function as an objective correlative for Judith’s trajectory. They reflect her and the changes she goes through. They can represent disguise, escape, the projection of a future self. I love clothes, and their possibilities. I think that many women can relate to their transformative potential—the idea that with this dress or those shoes we can escape ourselves and become something different.

11.Judith feels an innate connection with the painter Artemisia Gentileschi. How does art influence Judith? Why is she drawn to Artemisia? Is there an artist or a particular work of art you have connected with in your own life?

I think Judith is drawn to Artemisia as a model because she was incredibly brave—she didn’t put up with stuff. She brought a rape case against her father’s apprentice and won, even though she risked ignominy and the loss of her livelihood by doing so. She was a brilliant woman operating in a man’s world, and Judith relates to that.

There are many artworks that have been significant for me over the course of my life, but if I had to choose one it might be Gustav Klimt’s The Tall Poplar Tree I. It is so apparently simple, yet so dense and meditative. I always go to see it in the Neue Galerie when I’m in New York City.

12.How does Judith relate to the novel’s other women—Frankie, Mercedes, Carlotta, Yvette, to name a few?

Judith has rather a sad relationship with women. She has never really had any friends, and when she gets the chance, she is, as she observes, almost pathetically grateful. But she is not sentimental about women: in the world she finds herself moving in, they can be fairly ruthless, and she recognizes and exploits that. I think she is quite genuinely fond of Frankie, who though she is not a major character shares some of Judith’s own sense of not quite fitting in.

13.Do you have a hint for us about what Judith will do next in the trilogy?

I can’t say too much, but it’s surprising.

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