Title: She Be Damned
Author: M.J. Tjia
Genre: Historical Crime
Publisher: Pantera Press
Published: 1st August 2017
Synopsis: London courtesan or professional sleuth?
London, 1863: Women in Waterloo are turning up dead, their sexual organs mutilated and removed. When another girl goes missing, fears grow that the killer may have claimed their latest victim.
The police are at a loss and so it falls to courtesan and professional detective, Heloise Chancey, to investigate.
With the assistance of her trusty Chinese maid, Amah Li Leen, Heloise inches closer to the truth. But when Amah is implicated in the brutal plot, Heloise must reconsider who she can trust, before the killer strikes again.
The popularity of amateur sleuths, historical crime and cosy crime means that there has been an explosion of these books of late – reviving the days of Agatha Christie and her characters, Poirot and Miss Marple, and joining the ranks of The Honourable Miss Phryne Fisher, Rowland Sinclair and modern amateur sleuths such as Mma Precious Ramotswe and Inspector Ashwin Chopra (Retd) in their quests to rid the world of criminals and crime. The latest, just as unique character to join them is Heloise Chancey, a courtesan in London during the 1860s, who is called upon to discreetly look into cases for some of London’s important people, or into the cases that nobody really worries about. Heloise becomes embroiled in a murder mystery about prostitutes turning up dead, minus their sexual organs in Waterloo when a young girl in the upper classes, Eleanor, goes missing. Her father and Sir Thomas, Heloise’s employer, believe she has met the same fate as the prostitutes, and employ Heloise, and require the utmost discretion, as she can go places that the police cannot, or will not. Together with her maid and companion, Amah Li Leen. Together, they will inch closer to the truth – but when Amah is embroiled in the plot, Heloise must use all of her wits to find the real culprit before they strike again.
Debut novels, especially for a series, are crucial to establishing the character and style of the story and the author to the reader. They cement the setting for readers and with any luck, have them wanting more – often the mark of a series that will be successful and gain a loyal following. Heloise Chancey’s debut ensures that she has a place as a character and the author, M.J. Tjia, will have fans who will eagerly await her next book. It didn’t take me long to read this one, and I quite enjoyed it. It had strong characters, revealed their histories slowly, and still left some questions unanswered for future books, and allowed the reader to unfold the story with the protagonist, which is often quite fun in mystery stories, and allows the pacing to move along effectively.
In an engaging plot, M.J. Tjia’s characters become their own entity, each with their own flaws and strengths that make them engaging. Heloise is as stubborn as she is elegant, Amah is as snarky and sarcastic as she is honourable and faithful. Together, they work, and though Amah is at times disdainful of Heloise’s chosen occupation, she nonetheless puts up with her antics, whilst delivering some harsh truths to her mistress and ensuring she has done her best to prevent disasters happening to Heloise during her adventures and investigations.
True to the Victorian period, the male characters overwhelmingly concern themselves with Heloise’s delicate feminine sensibilities – sensibilities that Heloise doesn’t have, nor does she subscribe to, leaving the men quite shocked that she doesn’t faint all the time, whilst still maintaining her standing and the characteristics of a Victorian lady. She is, at the same time, appropriate for the time period, whilst standing out and away from the societal expectations of the time, ensuring a strong character with an intriguing story. I hope that Heloise has more stories and more secrets to come, and I await her further adventures eagerly.