She Be Damned by M.J.Tjia

If you like interesting female protagonists, the mystery of murder in 19th century London, then you may like to read Ms Tjia’s novel.

She Be Damned by M.J. Tjia

‘Go back to work in a brothel, for the sake of a little detection?’

This novel is set in London in 1863, where prostitutes in the Waterloo area are turning dead.   When the corpses are found, organs have been removed or mutilated.  Who is killing these women, and why?

Heloise Chancey is a courtesan, nicely set up in a house in Mayfair with her Chinese maid /Amah, Li Leen.  Heloise has done some informal detective work for Sir Thomas Avery’s private detective agency previously, and when Eleanor Carter, a well-bred young woman goes missing in the Waterloo area, Heloise is approached by Sir Thomas and, on behalf of an unnamed client, a Mr Priestly to help. And, when simply asking doesn’t seem to get the answer Mr Priestly requires, an unsubtle threat does.   The police, apparently, are not particularly interested in the cases of four murdered prostitutes.  Sir Thomas and Mr Priestly believe that Heloise Chancey’s contacts may well enable her to locate Eleanor Carter.  And so, Heloise Chancey is essentially blackmailed into trying to find Eleanor.  Clearly a resourceful young woman, she quickly moves into an investigatory mode.  Her mission to try to find Heloise becomes caught up in the police’s wider investigation of the murdered prostitutes.

There are more than a few twists and turns in this story, despite the similarities between this fiction and the crimes perpetrated by Jack the Ripper some twenty-five years later. While I found Heloise Chancey an improbable character, Li Leen was intriguing and Ms Tjia kept my interest throughout.   I understand that this is the first novel in an intended series.

I was jerked out of the story at one stage: a reference to the stench of ‘sewerage’ in a novel set in London and written by an Australian should surely be a reference to ‘sewage’.

Note: My thanks to NetGalley and Pantera Press for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith