What do you get when you mix a gorgeous woman, a handsome bodyguard with secrets, mysterious dual identities, a murder, and the ancient art of the courtesan? Why you get Claudine of course, the newest entry in stellar women’s suspense erotica. Written by a famous (well, we’re taking their word for it) Canadian author under the nom de plume of Barbara Palmer, this intriguing novel of one woman’s seductive secret life is one for the books (did I really just say that?)
Boy oh boy has erotica come a long way since we all dove deep into the grande mere of smut, 50 Shades of Grey. While romantic women’s fiction has been around for a long time – forever in fact- when it comes to buying it, we have all come out of the closet. And you know what? We don’t want euphemisms or platitudes. We want our books dirty and we want them now. But what we also desire, more than anything else, is variety. While personally I love a good romance (I mean, I’m not saying no to a four-hour read that includes love at first hate and a Happy Ever After following a catastrophic story arc), once in a while I want to exercise my brain and my imaginative libido at the same time. Thankfully, there are authors who are happy to provide heroines who are in it for themselves and not just to get a guy. Who create female characters who explore their sexuality because they like to do the humpety hump and not because they Must Fall In Love. These authors, throwbacks to the golden age of Colette and Anne Rice, give us erotic literature – well written and well-storied brain food for our naughty little habit. It appears that a lot of writers want to write about sex.
Yay for us.
Maria Lantos has a secret. She’s a post-grad student researching early erotic literature at Yale who puts her studies to work after hours as a courtesan named Claudine specializing in erotic role play. Her allure and stock of sexual tricks command top dollar from international clients. When Maria receives anonymous text messages filled with chilling threats, she knows her secret is out, and someone is hunting her—someone who knows a lot about her past and who’s intent on playing a starring role in her present
As Claudine, she loves the brief anonymous liaisons that allow her to explore the darker side of power and desire. But now it’s Maria’s turn. Two men—charismatic Yale professor Reid Whitman and her business manager, Andrei Barinov—will test the limits of her sexuality and safety, forcing her to discover the depth of the dark places within her. Claudine combines the pace of a thriller, the deep emotional connection of a romance, and the heat of a beautiful woman’s sexual discovery.
Since I totally judge a book by it’s cover (and this one’s cover is SO pretty). I wanted to like Claudine and I did. The premise behind it – of a woman who has found the power in her own sexuality and controls her encounters on her own terms- was intriguing. As much as the trilogy S.E.C.R.E.T. by L. Marie Adeline explored how women could liberate themselves through exploring their desires, Claudine entices with thought provoking questions about self-image, beauty, the power a woman holds, and whether one can really escape one’s past. Read on the surface, it’s a good story, consumed with depth, it’s a great one. It’s obvious that Palmer’s alter ego (whoever that may be) has writing chops: the suspense is skillful and the prose lovely and clean. Our characters, especially the men, are so subtly wrought that we never guess the villain until it’s almost too late. It’s fun, as the reader, to know as little as the people on the page, and I believe that even the most avid CSI watchers will be stumped. Take that as a challenge, if you’d like, because if you can spot the bad guy before we all do, you get the gold star. That’s a promise.
If I were to find one fault in this book it’s in the ending, which is far too traditional considering the rest of the novel. Delivered all wrapped up with a bow, it’s a tiny bit predictable. I won’t ruin it for you, but needless to say that if you’re looking for your Hallmark moment, you’re going to get it.