Why Join?

  • Add New Books

  • Write a Review

  • Backpack Reading Lists

  • Newsletter Updates

Join Now

Thriller set across Venice and Europe, plus L S Hilton shares her top tips for Venice

6th April 2017

Domina by L S Hilton, thriller set across Venice and Europe.

This is the second outing for the Judith Rashleigh, who first appeared in Maestra, which we reviewed here. There will be a third and final book in the series.

Judith had to abandon her art gallery – Gentileschi – in Paris in the last book for various reasons, and vanish from the art world. She has now popped up in Venice, running a gallery under the assumed persona of Elizabeth Teerlinc, but using the same name Gentilleschi for her gallery (if you are choosing to disappear, surely it isn’t altogether wise to keep the same name….). She has a lovely apartment which she has furnished with ultimate taste. Life could be so good for her….

thriller set across Venice and Europe

There is a Caravaggio drawing on linen which a Russian oligarch – Yermolov – wants, and who, at the same time, is determined, it seems to her, to deconstruct her “laboured carapace”, her new identity. She knows that Caravaggio was not known for doing preparatory drawings, so this is more than likely to be a fake. Why would Mr Yermolov crave ownership? Enter his wife Elena who offers a little more clarity into the situation.

Judith’s quest to avoid being found out takes her from beautifully described Venice (comprising the first 1/3 or so of the book) and then on to Paris, Belgrade and St Moritz, locations where the wealthy jetset can be found. Despite her poor beginnings in life, she has insinuated herself into the glitz and glamour of the rich and famous without batting much of an eyelid.


San Teodoro and his crocodile (photo credit TripAdvisor)

The locations, and in particular Venice, really do come to life – musings on San Teodoro and his anatomically peculiar crocodile at Piazza San Marco (which indeed is a very odd animal) are well observed and that “in every Venetian day there is one moment when the city is made entirely of silver” which is just so true! Some real #literarywanderlust amongst the pages of Domina.

The end of desire is death” is the mantra throughout and the link between desire and death is strong. Indeed, a visit to Diaghelev’s tomb on the Island of San Michele in Venice leads Judith and Elena to recall the musings of Henry James that “Venice was the most beautiful sepulchre in the world“. Thus, Venice is an apt setting for this tale of life on the edge, a precipice from which many fall.

The book opens with a murder and detailed sex scene and the story moves forward apace from this landmark start.

What are my thoughts? The first book, Maestra, had an ease about it with detailed sex scenes that were certainly eye-watering. In Domina Judith’s character bolts across the pages of the book as she journeys across Europe, picking people up, dropping them, yes, even murdering them. Given that Judith is clearly one of a kind, a bright, calculating and narcissistic personality, it is much harder to connect in this book than it was in the last. It is a brave author who chooses a central character who has sociopathic tendencies.

The author does have a great writing style, the book is intelligent, nattily observed, well researched and L S Hilton can certainly pull together an imaginative story. The cover of this book sums up perfectly the content, and I love the flooded use of the lapis lazuli blue – Ultramarine –  the most expensive natural pigment in the art world, used exclusively at one time for colouring  the robes of the Madonna in paintings. There is, however, quite some detail in the book about Naples Yellow, the oldest synthetic pigment that dates back to around the 1620s (but *clue* Caravaggio died in 1610, make of that what you will!), so I did wonder whether the cover designers missed a beat by not using what can actually be a rather beautiful yellow on the jacket. But I digress …

Given that I am trained as a psychosexual therapist and have a degree in Art History this book should have really have been a shoo-in. But there is a propensity for page-long details of art provenance and research, and a wealth of designer labels, which could at times bog the storyline down (yes, of course some of it is really interesting, but some of it is really top heavy).

The scenes of a sexual nature are one of the drivers behind this book. As an example, you will find passages like “The tarts were  directing operations will all the conviction and enthusiasm of motivational dancers at Hieronymus Bosch’s Bar-Mitzvah, rearing up to shake their hands to the beat before plunging back to insert a tongue or finger into a waiting body”. (The artist Bosch of course was known to be against sensuality and greed – as you can see, I am getting caught up in the artistry!). The often candid liaisons serve to emphasise that Judith is a woman who uses her wiles for her own ends – and for basic survival. Judith struggles however at times to get gratification from all this between-the-sheets activity (or, to be more precise, not so much between-the-sheets as everywhere else), so perhaps there is a sexual dysfunction developing. Now that could make an interesting storyline, but who knows where the author will go with the next instalment.  We wait to find out!

This is certainly not a book for everyone. As the author acknowledges, Judith is a flawed character – empowering to some, hated by others.

Tina for the Tripfiction Team

Over to Lisa who features in #TalkingLocationWith… and it’s VENICE!

In every Venetian day there is one moment when the city is made entirely of silver. As the very last sliver of twilight slips beneath the lagoon, stone and water meld into an aquaforte engraving, tints of old pewter, shuddering argentate black and gleaming white gold. You have to look for it, to await its coming, but it is the moment when the city is most entirely and mysteriously itself.”

Judith Rashleigh, the heroine of Maestra and Domina, doesn’t really do love, but Venice is as close as she comes. The city seemed a natural base from which to shape her adventures-at one point Venice was the murder capital of Europe, as well as having a reputation for the world’s most glamorous courtesans. And of course, Venice is the home of the mask and the domino, a sparkling mirage of a city which flourished on the allure of deceit. Venice is glamorous, cosmopolitan and endlessly mysterious – it’s a place I can’t get enough of, and in imagining Judith’s life there, I was thrilled to revisit many of my favourite spots in La Serenissima.

Piazza San Marco was known as “the drawing room of Europe”, and Florian’s remains the ultimate Venetian caffè. The eighteenth century interiors are as exquisite as the tiny tramezzini cocktail sandwiches served with an afternoon prosecco. Admittedly it’s expensive, but it’s a huge treat and remains a quintessential Venetian experience. Judith extravagantly has her cappuccino there every morning.


Caffè Florian Photo credit – ExploringTourism.com

logoThe district near San Basegio, where the causeway connects to the mainland, has recently become home to artist’s spaces and small galleries – as near as Venice gets to industrial chic, and the place I chose for Judith’s gallery, Gentilleschi. I visit the restaurant Pane Vino e San Daniele every time I come to the city – in a quiet, rather shabby campo it serves unusual Venetian specialities. I situated Judith’s flat in Campo Santa Margerita in the Dorsoduro area of the city. It’s still a real neighbourhood, with a fish market and plenty of bars which do excellent cichetti, the Venetian answer to tapas. Nearby is the Carmelite convent with its fabulous frescoes and it’s a short walk from the Zattere, which is home to Da Nico, a fantastic little gelateria popular with locals (I particularly love the chestnut). The Gesuati Church a little further along the quay has a fantastic collection of artworks, including a playfully majestic ceiling by Tiepolo.

Another location featured in Domina is the Guggenheim Museum, the unfinished villa which was the home of the American heiress and patron Peggy Guggenheim, whose fabulous collection, including a roomful of Jackson Pollocks, is displayed there. The rooftop terrace has a breathtaking view of the Grand Canal and the Accedemia bridge. Opposite the museum is my personal Venetian favourite, the terrace of the Gritti Palace. A drink there in the evening, watching the sun set behind Santa Maria della Salute, with the light of the lagoon catching the ancient original mirrors inside the palazzo, feels about as perfect as life can be.

Thanks so much to Lisa for sharing such wonderful tips!! If you want to get in touch with Lisa, you can join The Readers Club by sending her an email: [email protected] and you will find lots of extra material, from background on the artworks to a travel guide based on Judith’s adventures. You can also connect with her via her website.

Connect with Team TripFiction via Twitter (@tripfiction), Facebook (TripFiction), Instagram (TripFiction) and Pinterest (TripFiction)… and now You Tube

For more books to transport you to VENICE, just click here

Subscribe to future blog posts

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *