Review - She Be Damned, M.J. Tjia

Reviewed By
Karen Chisholm

SHE BE DAMNED is the opening salvo in an new series set in London in the 1860's featuring courtesan and professional detective Heloise Chancey. If this opening is anything to go by then this will be a fun, engaging and very lively group of novels.

Given this is the debut, there is a scene and character set up going on, but never to the detriment of the plot and pace of the story overall. Chancey is a wonderful character - strong, resilient, a survivor despite the odds stacked against her - revealed as the novel progresses. There's a really good, unforced sense of place and time as well, established using circumstances and events, rather than resorting to scene setting descriptions. Everything about the novel feels true to life, right from the interactions that Chancey has with the police and brothel madams, the girls who work in the brothels, street urchins, and the maids and staff who keep both her, and the wheels of society moving. 

The central plot is also very much of the time. The dodgy doctors, the backyard resolutions of untimely pregnancy and the questionable health care for sex workers in those days. From the awful numbers of women being found mutilated and dead, co-coinciding with the disappearance of a young woman thrown out of her family home for her own unmarried pregnancy there is a timely, without being preachy, reminder that we're quick to blame the women, never the clients, never the downright stupid "rules" and restrictions involved. It's actually quite refreshingly done - many of these women are survivors, they are making the best of the hand that life has dealt them and Chancey, in particular, is unrepentant (nor should she be), and proud of her achievements.

Needless to say I really loved this novel. Loved the character, appreciated the observations about women's role in society and the need to survive despite the odds. Loved the sense of place and time, and really liked the way that it all came together in a beautifully balanced storytelling style. SHE BE DAMNED should leave you looking forward to the next instalment with pleasurable anticipation.

Year of Publication

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.

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