A Necessary Murder (Heloise Chancey Mysteries)

Written by M. J. Tjia
Review by Susan McDuffie

London, 1863:  A little girl is discovered savagely murdered in her wealthy family’s outhouse.  A few days later, a grown man is similarly slain on Heloise Chancey’s back doorstep.  Heloise, a courtesan who sometimes works as a detective, had invited the man to one of her soirees.  It later becomes evident that one of Heloise’s daggers, an Asian kris, is missing and perhaps is the murder weapon.  Heloise goes undercover to try and solve the case. Simultaneously Amah Li Leen, Heloise’s own mother, works to unravel a mystery of her own.  Neither woman suspects their two investigations will converge, nor that the roots of these slayings may date far back in time and transcend the London setting.

Both Heloise and Amah Li Leen are complex, flawed, and fascinating characters, and that contributes a great deal to the appeal of this well written novel.  Tjia noted in a recent interview that the initial murder of the child in her book was inspired by the 19th-century Road Hill House murder, but from that starting point Tjia has crafted a compelling mystery with a far different resolution than the actual historical case.  A somewhat gritty read, not a cozy in any sense, the narrative, written in present tense, evokes a Victorian London that should appeal to lovers of historical mysteries and interesting characters.  Recommended.