Claudine by Barbara Palmer (a pen name for an unknown established author) follows the story of a Yale post-grad student specializing in early erotica literature named Maria Lantos who lives a dual life as a professional courtesan/escort named Claudine. She is renowned for artistic performances and with the company of her personal assistant and her business manager, Andrei, she travels across the world for shows, private meetings and events. Maria tries very hard to keep her personal and professional lives separate, but when she begins to receive threatening text messages, she realizes her secret may be out. As her worlds converge, Maria finds herself on an increasingly dangerous path that is painted with murder, haunting truths from her past, and a threat that will unravel both of her lives.
There are some enjoyable things about this erotica-thriller. Palmer built an intricate and intriguing character profile for Maria by tracing her history all the way back to her childhood in an orphanage in Romania and presenting her as a strong, self-assured, and confident woman who is determined to build her life as she sees fit. She later incorporates such elements into the twisting mysteries that Maria becomes involved in. And yes, there are many steamy scenes, but there are also many references and homages to the genre which gives the story a sort of meta-feel. The tale often reads like a Dan Brown novel, with all the pieces of the mystery being drawn from history and slowly coming together to make one clear picture of Maria’s personality and story.
Unfortunately, like a Dan Brown novel, there is a lack of depth in the narrative, a cliché/expected romance and a somewhat predictable third act which makes Claudine an unsatisfying read. Although Palmer did build Maria’s character history well and presented her as an empowered, liberalized individual, she also did not really do much to advance Maria’s character development. This holds true to the romance aspect of the novel, which can be seen pretty much from the get-go of the book. Maria’s life as a courtesan seems to be almost that of a celebrity, and given the level of her fame in her line of work, it makes it difficult to believe that she could really be successful at keeping her secret as safe as she wants. Even amidst all of the mysteries and threats, she appears stagnant (or stubborn, depending on your viewpoint.) While I appreciate Palmer’s attempt at using this trait to demonstrate the strength and persistence in the face of a threat, it felt like Maria barely feared her situation, and that lack of development undermines Maria as a protagonist.
I received an ARC of this book from Penguin Canada in exchange for an honest review. It is now available for purchase in stores.