She Be Damned

Written by M. J. Tjia
Review by Valerie Adolph

Prostitutes in the Waterloo district of London in 1863 are being found dead in unusual numbers and with unusually macabre mutilations. Then a young girl of good family goes missing in the area, and Mrs Heloise Chancey is asked to find her. Mrs Chancey, who poses as a wealthy widow, has a variety of skills. To Sir Thomas Avery she is one of those very rare females: a woman detective. To a select number of wealthy gentlemen she is an experienced and beautiful courtesan. She can also pose as a street prostitute or a sewing woman. She is, occasionally, an actress, and as such she can quickly assume any number of identities.

To find Miss Carter, who is in “an unhappy condition,” Heloise spends some time in Madame Sylvestre’s brothel, making friends throughout the underbelly of London society but putting herself in considerable danger of being mutilated and murdered. She visits medical and not-so-medical men and women who practice abortions, never knowing who her friends or enemies are.

The author sets out to paint a picture of the unfashionable, dangerous side of Victorian London, a place where women are especially vulnerable and danger lurks around every corner. She spares no effort to delineate the physical and moral filth that Heloise must negotiate as she searches for Miss Carter. Heloise herself is an entertaining character, and her normal lifestyle of wealth and beauty stands in vivid contrast to the sleazy brothels and abortionists’ hovels she must investigate. The many facets and options of her wealthy life run counter to the one focus of London prostitutes: to survive.

Despite the author’s efforts to shock the reader in a variety of ways, she still manages to weave an entertaining tale with entertaining characters and many plot twists.