A Necessary Murder, M.J. Tjia
The second outing for Heloise Chancey, A NECESSARY MURDER follows on from the promising debut SHE BE DAMNED. In that novel we were introduced to Heloise Chancey, courtesan, independent woman and occasional detective. A combination Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poroit in an 1800's V.I. Warshawski depiction, Chancey is considered, cautious, fearless and disdainful of societal rules and expectations. She's a highly sought after courtesan with lovers and champions in all sorts of places, and a fondness for detecting that makes enormous sense. So far the crimes she's involved in have had a certain female or domestic leaning about them, making her insertion into the story, in the timeframe, conceivable and, one supposes, achievable.
In A NECESSARY MURDER more is drawn out about Chancey's mixed race background - her Malay "maid" is actually her mother, and her involvement in Chancey's investigation in this outing is more overt - with Amah Li Leen's suspicions about a series of violent deaths, including that of a very young child, falling very close to home indeed. Chancey is called upon to take a position as governess in the home of the first victim - looking after a younger brother - in an attempt to work out if these murders are connected to events years ago in Malaysia, or if there's something closer to home at their heart.
SHE BE DAMNED delivered much potential in the character of Heloise Chancey, an unapologetic, strong woman surviving in a world that's not well disposed towards independent women. Her bravery tempered by intelligence, and a burning desire to see wrongs righted, the basic plot of the first novel had Chancey involved for reasons that made enormous sense. In A NECESSARY MURDER there's slightly less personal motivation for her (as opposed to her mother, but that's not known to Chancey until much later on), so she's taking more of a role as an independent private detective. Because of that there's something slightly less convincing about the underlying plot elements here which struggle a bit for clarity of purpose. Instead, this time, Amah is taking the more personal involvement and that thread has considerable credence as a result. It's when writing about the personal circumstances of these women that Tjia really hits her high notes.
That's not to say that the mystery elements aren't interesting, especially the interspersion of history and societal norms from the time, although it may be that you will have had to read the first book as much of the setup from there is required reading. For this reader at least, it's the personal stories of Heloise Chancey and her mother Amah Li Leen that leave me wanting this series to continue.
Stoke Newington, 1863: Little Margaret Lovejoy is found brutally murdered in the outhouse at her family's estate.
A few days later, a man is cut down in a similar manner on the doorstep of courtesan and professional detective Heloise Chancey's prestigious address. At the same time, Heloise's maid, Amah Li Leen, must confront events from her past that appear to have erupted into the present day.
Once again Heloise is caught up in a maelstrom of murder and deceit that threatens to reach into the very heart of her existence.