A Necessary Murder by M J Tjia

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A Necessary Murder by M J Tjia

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Category: Crime (Historical)
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: JY Saville
Reviewed by JY Saville
Summary: An easy-to-read sensory delight of a Victorian adventure, with intrigue and secrets aplenty, but not much detection.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 272 Date: July 2018
Publisher: Legend Press
ISBN: 978-1787198791

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It's 1863 and a little girl has been found murdered at the family home in Stoke Newington. A few days later and a few miles across London, a man is found dead in a similar way outside the opulent townhouse of Heloise Chancey, courtesan and part-time detective. Could they be connected? And what, if anything, does either of them have to do with Heloise's maid, Amah Li Leen, and the troubling events in her past which are threatening to resurface?

This is the second novel in MJ Tjia's Heloise Chancey series, following She Be Damned which came out in 2017. Again, the story is told partly from Heloise's point of view and partly from that of her maid Amah Li Leen, who has Chinese heritage but came to England from Indonesia many years earlier. I was struck early on by the sensory detail - the descriptions of sounds and smells (cologne, sandalwood, foods, not to mention less pleasant odours in the street and the morgue) as well as the many visual details really set the scene and make it easy to immerse yourself in Heloise and Amah's world. The intrigue and tension are set up almost immediately, with hints at Heloise's background and Amah's past and family connections.

However, I think there was too much fashion and fornication and not enough detection for my taste and despite the initial intrigue it seemed a bit slow to gather momentum. Heloise is described as a professional detective, but she doesn't start investigating anything for a good dozen chapters, and even then, despite a slight connection with the murders (through a friend of a friend, not to mention one of the bodies being found on her doorstep) she seems to take it up out of boredom, because she has nothing better to do that week. I didn't get a sense of her being driven to find answers, or of this being a regular occupation. Amah on the other hand was driven, watchful, and systematic. Ultimately I found Amah's half of the novel more captivating and her parallel investigations more tense and interesting than Heloise's.

If A Necessary Murder had been presented as a Victorian adventure novel, full of excitement and jeopardy with a hint of the Far East and a central mystery, I think I would have enjoyed it more. It's the suggestion that Mrs Chancey is a professional detective that sets up unfulfilled expectations of systematic investigation and logical deduction, and since I hadn't read the first novel I was surprised at the amount of time it took for her to become involved, and the way she seemed to stumble across some of the information and put the pieces together rather than set about it in a more planned way.

For another sensory treat of a detective novel you could try The Devil's Feast by M J Carter which is again set in London but this time in the 1840s, or give the first Heloise Chancey novel a try.

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Buy A Necessary Murder by M J Tjia at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy A Necessary Murder by M J Tjia at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy A Necessary Murder by M J Tjia at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy A Necessary Murder by M J Tjia at Amazon.com.


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