Judith Rashleigh - the Liverpool born daughter of an alcoholic cleaner in Hilton's break-out bestseller Maestra has reinvented herself again. She is now respectable Venice-based gallery owner Elisabeth Teerlinc.


In

Maestra

Judith yearned for escape from her "prole" roots - and - via a few crooked art deals, quite a bit of sex and a few corpses, seemed to have secured it.


Oddly

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Maestra's

sex scenes caused quite a stir - "makes '50 Shades' look like the Bible" trilled the New York Post - and the blow by blow accounts of high class orgies blinded many to an excellent novel on class and power.

Our post-Kardashian heroine does what she needs to do to get where she wants, and if that's accomplished by climbing into lace Rosamosario briefs and a Missoni dress - Hilton never lets a brand name slip by - in order to latch onto a billionaire or two, well and good.


Our heroine had taught herself "to hate the girls at school... what were they were going to be in a few years but flabby pram-faces in the bus queue".


She's resourceful and street-smart - has erased her accent and manners, learned languages and smoothed her defences "like a sculptor works marble" - poring over copies of

Le Monde

,

Country Life

and

Vogue

.


But the past has a way of catching up and when a man comes asking gallerist Elisabeth to value the art collection of a Russian oligarch the serpentine plot of Hilton's second thriller clicks into action.


And it's quite a ride; for a moment there Elisabeth thinks she might even have to pawn her Vacheron watch!


There's (a little) less sex on show than its predecessor (although a late-book encounter with an outsized Serbian executioner raises the quota). Indeed Hilton's prose turns most rhapsodic when it comes to the Old Masters.


Never fear, there's still lots of bling and handsome Eurotrash on display but what really gets Elisabeth off is Beauty - Klimts, Botticellis, Titians, Venetian sunsets - that and outsmarting the rich and powerful men through whom she's gained access to this rarefied world - this time using a fake Caravaggio as (unintended) bait.


The closest sociopath Elisabeth gets to guilt is that reduced sex-drive - and -for her - a strangely tender and chaste - relationship with homosexual hustler, Timothy, who helps out in a rather convoluted denouement.


Hilton - who penned several historical books before delving into genre fiction - describes them perfectly as "sunburn books - the kind where you tell yourself, 'I'll read one more page before I leave the beach' and before you know it, you've been sunburned."

Domina
L.S. Hilton (Bonnier $32.99)