This is such a good historical mystery that it deprived me of sleep. I was so keen to find out what happened that I kept reading. There are not many books that do that. So be warned about She be Damned. It is not a book for the easily shocked. Heloise, the first person narrator for nearly all of the book, is a courtesan in Victorian London. She is not a kept woman in the normal sense, as she has fought for and gained her independence from any single man, she has investments, property and a household who support her, and she has bought her own clothes, lovingly described.
The novel returns Heloise to her past of brothels and worse, when she is asked to find a young pregnant girl. The particular urgency in the case is because young women are falling victim to a vicious murderer, and Eleanor Carter is considered a potential victim. So Heloise must virtually leave no stone unturned in her hunt for the girl, her pursuit of the true killer, and eventually her own maid must be saved.
This is a short novel in which not a word is wasted, yet the author conveys a vivid sense of place, time and character. Tjia conveys interesting facets of characters of everyone including a street boy and an aristocrat, yet does not need to dwell on descriptive padding which keeps the action of the novel moving sufficiently fast to maintain interest. So when things go wrong and challenges arise, which they do in glorious gory detail, the reader is further drawn into the book. Heloise visits the mortuary and doctors as well as the sort of house she remembers working in all too well. This book has gory details and sexual frankness, so it is more than a little shocking.
This is also a book which implies much criticism of the limited choices women had at the time; to work on the streets or starvation. It shows how even girls from relatively wealthy backgrounds could quickly become desperate, homeless and on the streets in all senses. The differences between the wealthy and the poor is also highlighted as a street boy scavenges for scraps and an aristocrat takes Heloise to the opera. Finally the persecution by the police and bystanders of Heloise’s maid shows entrenched prejudice which quickly becomes dangerous.
Altogether this is a gripping book with twists and turns aplenty; engaging characters and red herrings. I really enjoyed reading this book and would be keen to read another book by this skilful and confident writer.
As you see, is the first stop on the blog tour! I was really grateful to receive an advance copy of this book, even if it did disturb my slumbers in the best way….