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
Soho Crime © 2018
Hardcover, 400 pages
Historical Mystery, #1 Perveen Mistry mystery
Source: the publisher