eARC Review | She Be Damned by M.J. Tjia | A Victorian era mystery

Book Review: She Be Damned by M.J. Tjia

She Be Damned: A Heloise Chancey Mystery by M J Tjia
She Be Damned: A Heloise Chancey Mystery by M.J. Tjia
Publication Date: August 2017
ISBN13: 9781785079313
Publisher: Pantera Press
Pages: 256
Genres: Mystery, Historical Fiction
Part of Series? Yes (Series name not decided yet!)
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley
Rating: ★★★½

Goodreads Blurb: London, 1863: prostitutes in Waterloo area 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.

Book tag: Mystery
Book Tag: Historical
Book tag: Crime


Introduction & Plot

I don’t usually read mystery or thrillers. This is the one that I read after a long time. This is a debut novel of the author M.J. Tjia. She Be Damned is a historical mystery set in the Victorian era in London. The main protagonist of the story is Mrs. Heloise Chancey who is a courtesan and lives in Mayfair with her Chinese Maid Amah Li Leen.

She got an assignment by Mr. Thomas Avery to find a missing girl named Eleanor, who was from a good family and was missing in London’s dark side, Waterloo. On the other hand, pregnant prostitutes in Waterloo area were being murdered and their sexual organs being mutilated and removed. They get the news of another girl getting murdered and they suspect that it may be Eleanor. Heloise decided to live in Waterloo, where her roots were, for investigating the case further.

During the investigation, Heloise made contacts to try and find Eleanor. But during all this mystery solving she gets into a bigger mystery and the number of events that were happening with the prostitutes. She meets a police sergeant, Bill Chapman who helps her in with the case. Obviously, there is some romance between them. They have a number of suspects for the crime and together they made some progress. She was near to getting the truth when Amah got arrested for the charge of murders.

Will Heloise be able to prove that Amah is innocent? Has does Amah anything to do with all this? What happened to Eleanor? Will Heloise find her? Who is the real killer and what actually is the motive?



Character Building and Writing

All the characters were created beautifully according to the Victorian era of the 1860s. I don’t know much about that era, as of their culture, but the description of everything fit fully to my knowledge. The dressing of Heloise was explained in a detailed manner like how the ladies were supposed to dress in those days. The author does a great job with the London setting and shown the attitudes and morals of the time correctly, as far I can say.

I found that the book is more character driven rather than the mystery driven. All the characters were dynamic and properly described as per their roles. I really liked the relationship between Amah Li Leen and Heloise. They were the perfect pairing while they don’t often get along. Still, there was a special bond between them and we get to see that bond as the story progresses. Both of them cared for each other very much. There were few surprises too, about both of them, which I was not expecting.

Though the character of Heloise was represented to a big extent, nothing was revealed about her past. I wanted to know her back story, that how she gets to leave the life of the prostitute and got settled in Mayfair. But I guess, the author has saved that backstory to be described in next books of the series (yes, this is to become a series.). Also, bits and pieces about Amah Li Leen were shown, but I wanted to know more about her story, that how she ended up with Heloise.

Middle English is used as the language. At most of the places, it was an easy read, but I was stuck at some places where some really old words were used. But I guess that was the need of the story.



Description and Impact

When you read a story about prostitutes being murdered and that too in a strange way, you often think it to be a dark and gory one. Yes, at some point it was dark especially the way those prostitutes were being murdered. Those were awful. But I am glad, that there was not too much graphic description for those deaths. It was horrific to know that there were doctors at the time who felt removing a woman’s ovaries and womb was a thing that would calm them would make them more content with their lives.

As I said earlier that the story was more character driven, you feel as if the story has just skipped some parts and it becomes confusing during parts of the book, so that we can learn more about the characters lives.

There was romance in the story but nothing too graphic. It was good that the romance was not described too much and the main focus was on the mystery. However, there was a lot of focus on Heloise especially always about her dressing and how beautiful she looked, what she is wearing etc, which I think was not necessary describing so many times.

In spite of having some complaints about the story, I loved the ending. It was surprising and I absolutely didn’t saw it coming.



What I liked

  • The Victorian era and its culture were depicted beautifully.
  • The characters were interesting and the relationship between Heloise and Amah Li Been is something to look forward too.
  • The mystery gets good as the story progresses, especially the end.



What I didn’t like

  • More focus was on specifying beauty of the women specially Heloise and her dressing etc.
  • A little backdrop story of Heloise and Amah could have been included to make it more interesting
  • There was a lack of continuity. At some part, it felt that the story just skipped something.
  • Amah’s role should have been more explored.
  • Most of the time the main focus was on Heloise rather than the case itself.



Final Thoughts

If you are looking for some quick and assertive read, then this is a decent read. It is certainly worth the read, especially for the ending. That ending specially changed my whole outlook towards the story. As a debut novel, Tjia has done a great job. I will definitely wait for the next book in the series, as I want to know more about Heloise and Amah’s backstory.



Overall Rating

3.5 star rating @FlippingThruthePages



Would recommend to

  • Who loves a fast read.
  • Readers who like reading the historical fictions set in Victorian era.
  • Who like character driven stories.
  • Readers who want to read a good mystery.





About the Author

Author: m.J. TjiaM. J. Tjia has a PhD in Creative Writing and Literary Studies. Her novella The Fish Girl won Seizure’s Viva la Novella, 2017. She has been shortlisted for the Josephine Ulrick Short Story Prize, Overland’s Neilma Sidney Short Story Prize, Fish Short Story Prize, and the Luke Bitmead Bursary and longlisted for CWA dagger awards. Her work has appeared in Review of Australian Fiction, Rex, Peril and Shibboleth and Other Stories.
She Be Damned is M.J. Tjia’s debut novel, and is the 1st instalment in her Heloise Chancey historical crime series.M.J. lives in Brisbane, Australia, with her family.



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