Tuesday, January 09, 2018

The Widows of Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey


First Line: On the morning Perveen saw the stranger, they'd almost collided.

In 1921 Bombay, India, Perveen Mistry has joined her father's law firm as one of the first female lawyers in the country. When one of the firm's clients dies, leaving three widows behind, Perveen goes to the Farid home to discuss all the things the women need to know in order to make informed decisions. Her father believes his daughter to be the perfect representative because the Farid widows live in purdah-- complete seclusion-- and have no contact with any man outside the immediate family.

Perveen is looking forward to this meeting because she's noticed some inconsistencies in the legal paperwork. She wants to get to the bottom of it so the women and their children will not be cheated. Perveen's visit creates tensions that rapidly escalate to murder. She realizes her suspicions were correct, and now she feels that it's her responsibility to find out what really happened on Malabar Hill-- and to ensure that no innocent women or children are at risk.

Having been a fan of Sujata Massey's award-winning Rei Shimura mystery series, I was thrilled to hear about this first Perveen Mistry mystery set in 1920s Bombay, India. There are two interwoven timelines in The Widows of Malabar Hill. One is present-day Bombay in 1921 which shows us Perveen working hard to become an integral part of her father's law firm. The second timeline takes us back to 1916 so we can learn what happened to Perveen to make her the woman she is five years later.

The story itself is a version of the locked room mystery. The widows live in purdah on Sea View Street. They stay in the women's section of the house, they do not leave their home, and they do not speak to any man who is not part of the immediate household. When a man dies inside a house where few people are admitted, it's going to take knowledge of the interior workings of the place to learn the truth. As a woman, Perveen is perfect for the role of investigator. She's also perfect in another way: she's become a feminist who's passionate about the rights of women and children. She shows us how such restricted lives are led and the intricate maneuverings that must be done in order to conduct an investigation. (Some policemen are much less willing to conduct themselves according to the beliefs of those who have become a part of their investigation.)

The mystery is a strong one because readers must acquaint themselves with this unfamiliar world in order to piece together what happened. And what can I say about the setting? Massey pulled me right into this world, and I was almost on sensory overload. The old ways versus the new. Bombay's rapid growth into a vibrant major city. The various political, religious, and social factions that chafed against each other on a daily basis. And one woman, with the support of her parents, who's strong enough to stand up for what's right.

I can't wait to get my hands on the next book in the series!
 

The Widows of Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey
ISBN: 9781616957780
Soho Crime © 2018
Hardcover, 400 pages

Historical Mystery, #1 Perveen Mistry mystery
Rating: A+
Source: the publisher 


13 comments:

  1. Glad you liked this tantalizing-looking book.

    But what a dilemma! I really want to read this, but put a bunch of books on hold at the library and they're "in transit." And I'm reading slowly these days.

    What a dilemma to have: So many good books recommended for 2017 here and at a few other blogs. Well, forget tasks, paying bills, cleaning, errands.

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    1. Especially cleaning. It's a time suck. You do it once and then you have to turn right around and do it again. Like laundry. Speaking of which, it's time to do mine!

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  2. Oh, this looks great, Cathy! You had me at the setting and context, to be honest. I've not read Massey before, but it won't be long before I do.

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    1. I think you'd enjoy her Rei Shimura series, too, Margot.

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  3. I used to read the Rei Shimura books too and was excited to see this new series. It's definitely on my radar and I love what you said about the story. Sujata Massey will be at Malice and I'm definitely going to hope that she appears on a panel and that I can attend that panel. I'd love to hear her speak about her writing.

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    1. Listening to her and Barbara talk at The Poisoned Pen was so much fun, and so interesting!

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  4. Now I know what will start off your best read list this year. Always look forward to seeing what it will be. I put in a library request for this book.

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    1. I hope you enjoy it! Massey had me living in 1920s Bombay right along with Perveen.

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  5. This is one I must track down! thanks for the review.

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  6. Library has only one copy with two on order, and 49 holds. This library system is so weird, orders lots of dvd's, not too many books unless they are by a blockbuster U.S. author.

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    1. That's obviously what brings in the most patrons to that particular branch, and I've noticed that a lot of people won't pick up a book unless it's a blockbuster. *sigh*

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  7. Well, the way this library system works is that few books are available at branches, a few shelves of popular books and then 3-4 bookcases of dvd's and 4 bookcases of fiction.

    A few years ago slews of books were taken out of the branches and put in storage or thrown out. A branch in the east 30s had five bookcases of mysteries. I was in heaven when I went there. But then the library administration whittled down that branch's mysteries to one bookshelf.

    One copy is kept in the main library, which is not very accessible, and it does not circulate. So, it doesn't work for me.

    So, the only way to get circulating books is to reserve them online within the system's website.

    But the buyers for the library system buy popular authors' books, mostly U.S., and a few books from abroad -- the most popularly read in the U.S.

    I keep asking for books to be ordered, 2 copies, just for them to circulate.

    But they order hundreds of dvd's, more than books.

    Even with this new book about Trump, "Fire and Fury," there are 49 copies in the system, and yesterday, 1540 holds.

    I'm still waiting for the system to have many non-U.S. books.

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