Fans of historical who dunnits will love the mystery and the deeply English setting of A Necessary Murder by M. J. Tjia. Although the second book in the Heloise Chancey Mystery series—the first being the well-received She Be Damned—it can be read as a standalone novel.
Heloise is a female detective with a keen wit and eye for patterns that nobody else can see. The series is set in 1860s, fog-bound London, and Tjia has impeccably portrayed the gritty, pestilential, nightmarish streets of the great city’s underbelly – as well as the opulence of the upper class.
Little Margaret Lovejoy is found with her throat slit in the remote outhouse at her family estate —but nobody knows why anyone would commit such a ghastly crime against an innocent child.
In alternating chapters, the story moves between the first-person perspective of Heloise and the key players around her, building a sense of dramatic irony that evokes some of Agatha Christie’s finest writing. Among other revelations, these perspectives tell the reader that Heloise’s maid, Chinese servant Amah Li Leen, (revealed to be her mother in She Be Damned), knows more about the string of murders at the heart of A Necessary Murder than she’s letting on. To protect her past and herself however, she must keep these secrets away from Heloise.
But it is Amah who delivers the dire news ‘of the dead man on the back step of my house.’ Following a raging party at chateau Heloise, the body of the mysterious McBride is found lying on its side across the landing, arms and feet splayed back, almost as if his head was on a hinge, throat slit open.
And even though Amah knows more than she’s letting on, it takes more than a guilty conscience to jeopardise her own wellbeing and help Heloise with her investigation into the murders.
A Necessary Murder is an engrossing and entertaining read, with a cast of characters who bring the story alive. Heloise is a charming, unflappable, and devoted detective. Caught in the quicksand of murder, sinking deeper as the deceits grow thicker and harder to decipher, she is soon to learn that this murderer—whoever it is—may very well be hatching dangerous plans for her, too.
A Necessary Murder is totally immersive both for the vivid historical setting and atmosphere, and for its cleverly plotted murder mystery. Like the witty Arthur Conan Doyle before her, Tjia knows how to thread suspense with humour and flamboyancy.
About the author
J. Tjia is a Brisbane-based writer. Her novella The Fish Girl, published under her real name M. J. Riwoe, was shortlisted for the 2018 Stella Prize. Her work has been long listed for the Crime Writers Association (UK) Debut Dagger. She is the author of She Be Damned: A Heloise Chancey Mystery. This is the second novel in the series.