She had been sentenced to a drowning in the canals of the city because of an unfortunate altercation which had left her then landlord dead (from a sudden defenestration) and a passerby also dead (having been landed on by the aforementioned landlord). This led to a charge of "Careless self-defence leading to the death of an innocent".
The fine was four hundred docks, halved because she was a woman. Although it was a relatively small fine, her finances were such that she was forced to opt for the "swim" in the canal.
That swim should not technically have killed her, but circumstances once again conspired against her when a lupe-fish became entangled in the ropes tying her to the weights and she drowned. However, she had previously been cursed never to know death by one of the people from whom she had stolen and this resulted in her emerging from the Quillas Canal as an undead.
She was employed at numerous times throughout the series by Tehol Beddict and others, at first as a thief, and then later as captain of the Undying Gratitude. Her first ship, a galley, was lost to a Mare escort in Laughter's End. Skorgen Kaban was her First Mate.
She took care of Kettle, an undead orphan who referred to her as Mother.
Shurq struck a bargain with Tehol Beddict. In exchange for a "makeover" by a local dresser of the dead, she agreed to help Tehol with his plans to bring down the financial system in Letheras by robbing Gerun Eberict. Her makeover included the installation of an ootooloo.
She took on Iron Bars and his men as additional crew and at the end of the book they discussed setting sail soon.
The Undying Gratitude was becalmed fourteen leagues west of the Draconean Isles where they came across an abandoned Tiste Edur ship which had been in a fight. They took on its cargo. Pushing hard north out of the Draconean Sea they were headed for the mouth of the Lether River when out of the south-west an Imperial fleet of Edur and Letherii ships appeared at a converging angle. Shurq decided to change her course, heading in the direction of Fent Reach to avoid possibly losing her cargo to the Edur.
When they reached Second Maiden Fort, they found the isle besieged by ice and just made it into the safety of the harbor ahead of it.
Shurq and Skorgen frequented the Harridict Tavern whose proprietor Ballant was infatuated with Shurq. There they observed some of the foreigners that had taken up residence on the isle. Shurq and Skorgen resorted to subterfuge to get to see Shake Brullyg. They found him kept under house arrest by the foreigners who turned out to be an advance of the Malazan Army. Adjunct Tavore recruited Shurq for her fleet to act as pilot to the Lether River.
- Shurq Elalle: "It’s a miserable existence. Day after day, night after night. One step in front of the other, on and on to nowhere in particular."
- Tehol Beddict: "And being dead has changed all that?"
- ―Shurq Elalle considering Tehol Beddict's job offer[src]