This is a unique Victorian thriller that mixes a missing person mystery and a whodunit thriller in a way that showcases the gifts of author MJ Tjia.
She Be Damned tells the tale of Heloise Chancey, a London courtesan-come-private-detective who lives in opulence, is a sometimes-actress, and has servants that she trusts. She is engaged as a professional detective to find a missing young girl in a time when prostitutes in the Waterloo area are being murdered and mutilated. Through her affiliation with local girls and as a sideline to her investigation, she ends up on a manhunt for a brutal and sadistic murderer.
Her employer, one Sir Thomas Avery, uses Chancey’s feminine intuition and guiles when necessary as an adjunct to his own detective service. In this case, he brings with him another man who will be integral to the twists and turns as this tale unfolds.
The story is written in such a way that the reader can identify with each character. It is spiced with subdued glimmers of erotica where one can understand the high level of favour Chancey, as a courtesan, offers and receives.
The reader is tempted to fill in the pieces of the puzzle as small clues are offered by the narrative of both Heloise and her maid, Amah Li Leen, an Oriental servant who many in polite society do not trust at these times. It is the detaining of this character that thrusts Heloise into an earnest search for the killer and, in fact, is the catalyst for a surprising reveal or two.
As the first in a series of novels, I look forward to what adventures both Heloise and Amah Li Leen face in the future. I am again compelled by the craft of yet another Australian female author to watch for more of her work.
Reviewed by Leanne Caune
Rating out of 10: 8
Released by: Pantera Press
Release Date: August 2017