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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Matala by Craig Holden

 Craig Holden
ISBN 10: 0743274997
ISBN 13: 978-0743274999
Fiction/192 Pages
Simon & Schuster

 My Review:
According to mythology, Zeus raped the princess Europa on the small island of Matala, so it is the ideal setting for Holden’s dark, erotic, noir-thriller. Filled with tough, cynical characters, Matala is a short, crisp read that demonstrates the sharp contrast between the haves and have nots. The line between sensuality and violence often blurs, melding the two into a shapeless, symbolic raping of innocence that changes both the con and the mark at the very core of their being.A combination graduation-birthday gift from her parents, this six week, guided tour of all the famous European sites was a painfully boring journey for Darcy Arlene. A napping chaperon provided the perfect opportunity to sneak away from the Hotel Abitazione and experience the “real city.” Walking through Rome she makes her way onto a bridge, spanning the Tiber, where she encounters an attractive young man who seems oddly familiar. An innocent introduction, leads to dinner, where the two continue to talk like old friends. Will invites Darcy to meet him for drinks at a wine bar in Olympic Village, but is convinced she’s blowing him off when she insists on returning to the hotel to face her chaperon and freshen up.
Appearing innocent and completely out of her element Darcy makes her way to the wine bar where she meets Will and is unceremoniously introduced to his older traveling companion of two years, Justine. After several rounds, Darcy explains she has to be up early to catch a train to Florence – the next stop on the tour schedule, but is easily convinced to stay for one more drink. The next morning, still a bit dazed and confused, she realizes she has missed the train and has been separated from both the tour group and all her cash. Her new friends comfort her, offering to travel with her to Florence, provided she pay their way, of course.

Justine was, by all accounts the web-weaver, setting up the marks, utilizing her vast network of underground contacts, she was a master manipulator and a sadist by nature. But she knew her ex-husband, Maurice held the key to the big-scam. And although she hated the very thought of working for Maurice, the chance to settle debts and make some real cash was too tempting and she reluctantly agreed. The job was pretty straight-forward, but not without risk…deliver a package to Matala by Christmas. When pushed for more information, Maurice simply stated, “a special gift for one who has everything.”
Finally free of chaperons, routines and the stifling constraints thereof, the excitement of the unknown, the dangers that could await her, delighted her beyond anything she had ever known. Darcy fancied herself streetwise, the mere thought of stealing awakened carnal urges deep within her that seemed to electrify her entire body. She knows there’s something fishy going on between Justine and Will – things don’t quite add up – she’s more than willing to play along because she finds the thrill of the con so appealing. Justine and Will had survived in a state of codependency, now with the addition of a third angle, what had once seemed a benevolent need to dominate and control, felt very wrong. Will realized he was changing, but so too were Justine and Darcy. What follows is a series of double deals and cutthroat betrayals that keep the reader on the edge, searching for answers.

How this three-way plays itself out is Holden’s trump card, which he skillfully holds close to the vest. The tension builds as the story hurdles toward the moment all the players and pawns in this high stakes game face off in a final showdown. Struggling with the contours and mysteries of ideals and self discovery each character is laid bare for all to see at the conclusion.

What begins with a spoiled little rich girl touring Europe, down shifts into a fast paced romp through the half-dens and hostels, courtesy of a couple of well seasoned grifters. As the three match wits and one up each other in an increasingly dangerous game of cat and mouse, the roles of con and mark blur.

Chock-full of deceit, debauchery and dark desires, Matala is best suited for a mature reader. The characters are well developed and delivered with razor sharp precision. The plot is well crafted and presented in stages which adds depth and dimension to the story. Although all the threads are neatly tied together at the conclusion, it feels forced and contrived, as if the story simply ran out of steam and was hurriedly wrapped up. However, with Holden’s exceptionally ability to craft compelling and complex characters I look forward to his next novel with great anticipation.

Happy Reading!


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