Maestra is a book I only heard about thanks to work (thanks work!). My manager pointed it out to me back in April, saying it was poised to become this year’s The Girl on the Train. I was intrigued by the premise and thought it may be one for me. At the time, I downloaded the book through Edelweiss and read the first five to six chapters only to have the book expire before I made any more progress. What I read of it stuck with me though and made a lasting, indelible impression. I told myself I would pick it back up in the summer when I might be more in the mood for it.
Flash forward three months later, and after a reading of The Girl on the Train (finally!) and I was, indeed, in the humour for another thriller. I am glad that I returned to it because, in all honesty, Maestra blew everything I was expecting out of the water. It’s too early to call it, but it definitely lands in my top favourites for the year, if not my absolute favourite book of 2016. I really, really loved this book.
That said, where to start when talking about this amazing book. Choices…
Judith Rashleigh is a chameleon, a woman striving to change (and hide) everything about herself to outside eyes. Originally from Liverpool, Judith has striven to alter her appearance, her uncultured upbringing, and everything that might give her upbringing away. She now works in London at one of the two most prestigious art auction houses. While her boss ignores her potential Judith rails at the obscurity, knowing that she is the best thing that British Pictures has going for it. It isn’t until the suspicious sale of an old British classic lands Judith in some hot water with her boss, Rupert, that everything really comes to a head. She is summarily dismissed and starts on an adventure best left for the reader to discover on their own.
Before her dismissal, Judith had encountered an old friend from home name Leanne. Leanne works in a champagne bar called the Gstaad Club. Olly hires beautiful girls to appeal to the clientele, persuade the big spenders to buy expensive bottles and flirt their way towards high commissions. It feels like a brothel but it’s not, though this is the hunting ground where Judith learns to hone her craft. She knows men and she knows best how to manipulate them and she thrives in this environment. Quickly, a banker named James takes a shine to Judith and becomes her best patron. After she is dismissed, she convinces James to take her and Leanne on holiday to the French Riviera. It is here that things take a tumultuous turn for the worst.
What follows is this awe-striking, frantic, and chaotic journey as Judith goes on-the-lam. In her flight, she uses everything at her disposal to disguise her tracks, no matter what the costs. Judith is a complex character; a woman of infinite substance and depth. She has no real moral code to anyone but herself. That said, she has a few tender moments with an old co-worker of hers, Dave, that help round her out. Just when you think this woman’s heart couldn’t get any blacker, her temperament any colder than stone, she flips on a die and surprises you. This is what I found so compelling about her – the hidden depths of humanity that she occasionally displays, the glimmers of empathy in an otherwise unsympathetic person. She is horrible and awesome and awful and so, SO much fun to read. She’s the type of woman who will reveal a crucial character developmental flaw and then two sentences later reveal that she stole another character’s property and is hiding it in a body cavity. I don’t know if she is for everyone, but I couldn’t look away. She might be my favourite written character in a long time. That said, she is a horrible human being. She is devious and cruel and crafty and uses everyone and everything for her own potential gain. High powered men with large bank accounts are her targets and her sexuality is tendered as currency. She schemes, she plans, she controls EVERYTHING. She is phenomenal to read.
Judith’s journey is itself Odyssean, leaving a gallivanting trail of glittering European cities and men’s libidos in her wake. She is measured and calculated and precise and cruel. That handful of times she seems to slip up only serve as little plot bombs for the future. Just when I thought I had this character nailed down she would surprise me again and again. Early descriptions compare this to The Davinci Code, but I assure you that it’s NOT Dan Brown-esque at all! It is more like a Euro-hopping, sexy and smart, take-no-prisoners, manipulative, black widow anti-heroine fueled romp that punches you in the jaw about fifteen times and doesn’t let up. The decadence of her journey is colored with the pomposity of a modern-day Marie Antoinette, collecting riches and commodities and not caring who gets stepped on along the way. This is furious adrenaline soaked peek into a Boschian hedonistic fantasy world of art, sex, debauchery, murder and, ultimately, power…and Judith holds all the cards. It’s dirty, it’s vulgar, it’s garish, it’s gross, and it’s everything I might have wanted to read this week. I adored it, every word.
There is one spoiler I will add for the curious of heart – it is not a standalone novel. I was surprised by this as well, as there is nothing yet to indicate this fact anywhere online. I got to the end of the book with no idea how she would end it only to smack into a giant “To Be Continued” wall. I have not been so disappointed and excited for another book in a long, long time. That said, I plan to read the next adventure of this devious woman with fervor. Hell, I will probably reread this one before that just to freshen my love for her. She is that good. Maestra is that good, plain and simple.
5 out of 5 stars for this opulent, magnificent book. I can’t wait to read the next one!
– Follow the Reader –