A Necessary Murder by M.J.Tjia – A complex Mystery – or two!

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This is a historical crime novel with a lot of flair, brilliant use of existing historical facts, and a shrewd appreciation of strong female characters. This is a second outing for the unconventional detective, Heloise Chancey, Victorian courtesan, social leader and forthright woman of her time. Not for the nervous reader, this is London in all its rat infested splendour, but with a healthy element of gracious living as Heloise is very good at what she does. The rather daring use of a notorious case from real life adds something to the story, as well as the main character’s unaccustomed domesticity in a good cause. Old experiences and terrors add to new passions and outrages to bring this modern historical novel a new perspective on Victorian life.

The book opens with Heloise and the faithful Amah preparing for a gathering of Heloise’s friends and acquaintances. Theirs is an unusual relationship; far more than the usual mistress and maid as they are intensely sensitive to each other’s feelings. This domestic scene is not the first thing however; a brutal discovery by a maid leaves the reader in no doubt that this will be a no holds barred book. The evening party to which various influential people have been invited is a little confusing in terms of names, but the disruption which occurs is unequivocal as Amah returns from an intriguing situation which has brought back memories of past traumas. The somewhat dramatic murder which she becomes involved in is only the start of a multi layered investigation in which frank and fulsome details are given, and there are several twists which almost made me drop the book with surprise. None of the senses are ignored as the smells, textures and feeling of life in the more sordid parts of London are evoked by this clever writer. This is in clear contrast with a claustrophobic account of a family home rent with suspicion.

As with the first book in the Heloise series, “She Be Damned”, this is an author who is determined that women will have the most significant roles. Most of the men in this book show signs of confusion in comparison. It has a strong narrative of mystery, betrayal and surprise; many murder mysteries are less complex! There are some shocking elements of murder and sex here, but they are admirably controlled and in context. There are small confusions over names and timing, but assumptions about women and class are admirably overturned. Heloise is a fascinating character in every sense, as despite much opposition she is determined to survive and flourish. Her composure is shown and maintained by her magnificent taste in clothes, jewellery and other accessories, and Tjia has obviously done much research into these areas. She also has a great sense of time and place, while avoiding most of the ‘Victorian life’ clichés. Altogether this is a good and compulsive read, full of atmosphere and at times foreboding, and a worthy second volume in this excellent series.

I was really pleased to receive an advanced copy of this book and am delighted to take part in the tour to promote it!

She Be Damned- A Heloise Chancey Mystery by M.J.Tjia

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.

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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….