Why would a promising solicitor moonlight as a whore?
I made up a dozen sob stories. None of them were really true. Suffice it to say, the
parents who paid for the education that brought me here--nearing the end of my training at a rather swanky firm, if I say so myself--could never afford it. I could have let the bank take their
house and their lives, if I'd been that kind of girl.
Novels that deal with the sex trade tend to be melodramatic. Prostitution is described as a trap from which an essentially innocent heroine needs to be rescued by the man who loves her (the plot of La Dame Aux Camellias), or it is described as the ultimate kink (The Happy Hooker).
This erotic romance with the groan-worthy title avoids the usual clichés while presenting a very traditional triangle: the first-person heroine, Leila, is discovered moonlighting as an upscale escort by her dangerous Alpha Male boss and her brotherly co-worker. Once her secret is out, the boss uses it to secure power over her, while Matt the co-worker offers her a more honest and considerate kind of love. Leila is tempted by each of them in turn. She confides in her best friend Clemmie and her other co-worker (in an escort agency run by a gay man), the flirtatious, bisexual Aidan, and they give her insightful feedback.
Leila, who could have been shown simply as confused or weak-willed, is realistically complex. She is generous enough to save her parents’ business (holiday cottages for rent in an idyllic setting) and to appreciate the various good qualities of her friends, who honestly wish her well. She enjoys tax law as well as the theatricality of sex scenes with Aidan, performed for a paying audience.
Although Leila’s dilemma (private humiliation from the boss vs. good-natured teasing from Matt, his brother and his mates in a rock band and a rugby team) is one of the staples of romance as a genre, the mix of lifestyles and personality types is unusually well-described. Leila has a history and a believable life in southern England. Even specific references to such things as VAT (Value Added Tax, which Leila and her fellow-solicitors must calculate) give the novel realistic texture instead of alienating non-British readers.
Of course, there is self-consciously witty dialogue between Leila and the colourful secondary characters. (Think of Sex and the City with a different set of accents). Groan. But then, Leila herself groans and apologizes, as though to suggest that she is really a literary heroine trapped in a lightweight, popular genre.
There are a lot of sex scenes, and they are predictably varied (mostly het and vanilla with spice notes of menage, lesbian and mild bondage). The sex is well-described, and the imagery creates powerful motifs that run through the whole book: the smell of lilac as a comforting but overwhelming reminder of the setting of Leila’s childhood, and the metaphorical knives that divide Leila the solicitor from her alter ego, Charlotte the whore. The references to cutting and emotional pain reach a climax in a sex scene which is chilling but restrained, poetic and hypnotic.This novel seems intended to be the first in a series; not all the loose ends are tied up by the end of this one. The author knows how to structure a novel, and how to involve a reader in the lives of her characters. The complications introduced in this book are worth following in the sequel.