Written by Ava Marsh — Untouchable is the gritty and sexy debut thriller from former broadsheet journalist Ava Marsh. Referred to as a cross between Belle du Jour and Martina Cole by crime author Mark Edwards, Untouchable draws the veil away from the world of the high class escort in London, and what dangers lurk in this secretive profession. Casting her eye on the exploitation and conversely the empowerment of women in this profession, Marsh has produced a challenging and eye-opening thriller to entertain and unsettle us.
Grace Thomas goes by the name Stella when she plays the role of escort. She sets her own rules, is fiercely independent, and always ensures that her own safety is tantamount in her sexual liaisons. She used to be someone else in another life but, due to one serious error of judgement, she was forced to turn her back on her previous career. When a fellow escort is murdered, Grace is forced into a difficult decision. Should she forget what she has witnessed, or risk everything to to get justice for her friend and expose some very dangerous political secrets indeed?
She is used to danger in her work, but the threat in the present combined with the long reach of the past puts her in more danger than she could ever imagine. So much so, that Grace is confronted with a real life or death conundrum when she is presented with the chance for absolute retribution, but is she brave enough?
Grace herself could so easily have been written as the one-dimensional tart with a heart – the cliched prostitute character so often seen in crime fiction. Instead, we have a multi-faceted, intelligent but emotionally damaged woman, in tune with her own sexual desires, but carrying a huge amount of emotional trust issues.
The comparisons between her actions within her safety zone working as an escort and her life outside that are sharply drawn, and Grace possesses a wonderful mix of strength and frailty. Marsh very carefully inserts into the plot a few choice references to Grace’s life before prostitution. This will change how you see her. Grace’s life journey has deviated so much from her initial plans and hopes for her future.
As the book is so fully centred on Grace, the other female characters don’t resonate so strongly within the main plot, and are a little less developed. Then there is Alex Lennart a Machiavellian rogue who begins to exert a dangerous but almost irresistible influence, on Grace’s life. He is an incredibly charming but treacherous bad guy. The battle against their physical attraction, underscored by Lennart’s creepy manipulation of everyone he encounters, is convincingly played out and drives us towards a unexpected and nerve-shredding conclusion.
Marsh’s depiction of the escort business is believable and eye-opening, astute, emotionally balanced and non-judgemental. Marsh manages to avoid descending into an overly salacious representation of this world, but there are still some quite graphic sex scenes. You might even find some of the practices educational.
Dark, sexy and really quite thrilling, Untouchable, is definitely worth a look.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars