Lifestyle & Culture

Weekend Reading: Maestra

Word about this sex-tinged thriller has gotten around. So, move over, Lisbeth Salander, here comes London auction-house assistant Judith Rashleigh. Allure magazine said, “Think 50 Shades of Grey meets The Talented Mr. Ripley.” The best part? L.S. Hilton’s Maestra, published last week by G.P. Putnam’s Sons, is the first installment in what will be a trilogy, and a movie is already in the works. Our excerpt showcases the yearnings of this working-class protagonist set against a playground for the rich as she prepares to shift identities as fast as you can say “Louboutin.”

ReadingMaestra2webTHE SQUARE of the tiny fishing village had featured heavily in the celeb mags at the Gstaad club, Beyoncé teetering down a gang plank, Leonardo di Caprio scowling from under a baseball cap, but the pap shots hadn’t given a sense of how small the place was. Just a single street leading down to a space not much bigger than a tennis court: albeit a tennis court surrounded with Dior and cashmere shops. I crossed to the café on the left side and ordered a Bellini from a silver haired waiter straight from central casting. Of course that was a cliché, but then the whole of Portofino looked like a cliché, everyone’s fantasy of the bel paese. He reappeared with a thick glass goblet filled with snowy pink peach slush, reverently opened a half bottle of Veuve Clicquot and stirred the Champagne carefully into the fruit. Little dishes of oily smoked ham, caper berries, crostini and thumbnail sized hunks of Parmesan surrounded it. I sipped. It was delicious, the kind of drink you could swallow until you slid down the wall, but I made it last, watching the last tourist ferry pull away from the harbour in a flutter of Japanese camera phones. The sun was still strong, but gentle now, softening the sky behind the promontory to the west of the village, capped with its wedding-cake church. I licked salt and peach juice from my lips, a sensual Instagram. I knew I should feel sad about what had happened to James, but if only because it had so strangely given me this moment, I couldn’t.

Lisa Hilton photo by Derrick Santini

Author L.S. Hilton. / Photo by Derrick Santini.

An elegant wooden boat was tying up at the dockside, one of the traditional Genovese fishing boats called godzo, with smart navy cushions and a white sun-canopy. A group of people were scrambling out, about my age, calling their thanks to the driver, who was naked except for cut off denims and a nautical cap, with improbable bright blond hair poking out underneath. I remembered that the Vikings had sailed along this coast, long ago, and that blond, blue-eyed Italians were not uncommon here, or in Sicily. I was fascinated by the group, four men and two women. There was a relaxed possessiveness to the way they moved through this space, as though there was nothing special about being in Portofino, as though they were unaware that this was the locus of so many cramped commuter dreams. They sprawled at a table close to me and lit cigarettes, ordered drinks, began to make phone calls which, from what I could overhear, concerned whose house they were going to meet up in for dinner later, with other friends. I watched. The girls were not strictly beautiful, but they had that show-pony sheen that comes from generations of confident money, long legs and narrow ankles, glossy hair, perfect teeth, no make-up. One wore what was obviously her boyfriend’s shirt over her bikini top, a monogram discreetly visible in the linen folds, the other was in an embroidered white tunic, with just a pair of green suede Manolo sandals, flat and rather scuffed, that I knew would have cost at least 500 Euro. I was embarrassed that I noticed that, because of course, a girl like her never would. The men were identikit, thick dark hair falling to their collars, broad shouldered and slim as though they had never done anything but ski and swim and play tennis, which they probably hadn’t. They were — effortless, I decided. Compared with Leanne and myself in our fussy Riviera finery they had an air of belonging which no amount of expensive shopping could ever produce. This is what properly rich people looked like, I thought, like they would never, ever have to try.

—L.S. Hilton

From Maestra by L.S. Hilton, published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons, an imprint of the Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © 2016 by L.S. Hilton.

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