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The Widows of Malabar Hill Summary and Reviews

The Widows of Malabar Hill

A Mystery of 1920s Bombay

by Sujata Massey

The Widows of Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey X
The Widows of Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey
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  • Published in USA  Jan 2018
    400 pages
    Genre: Mysteries

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Book Summary

Inspired in part by the woman who made history as India's first female attorney, The Widows of Malabar Hill is a richly wrought story of multicultural 1920s Bombay as well as the debut of a sharp and promising new sleuth.

1920s India: Perveen Mistry, Bombay's first female lawyer, is investigating a suspicious will on behalf of three Muslim widows living in full purdah when the case takes a turn toward the murderous. The author of the Agatha and Macavity Award-winning Rei Shimura novels brings us an atmospheric new historical mystery with a captivating heroine.

Perveen Mistry, the daughter of a respected Zoroastrian family, has just joined her father's law firm, becoming one of the first female lawyers in India. Armed with a legal education from Oxford, Perveen also has a tragic personal history that makes women's legal rights especially important to her.

Mistry Law has been appointed to execute the will of Mr. Omar Farid, a wealthy Muslim mill owner who has left three widows behind. But as Perveen examines the paperwork, she notices something strange: all three of the wives have signed over their full inheritance to a charity. What will they live on? Perveen is suspicious, especially since one of the widows has signed her form with an X - meaning she probably couldn't even read the document. The Farid widows live in full purdah - in strict seclusion, never leaving the women's quarters or speaking to any men. Are they being taken advantage of by an unscrupulous guardian? Perveen tries to investigate, and realizes her instincts were correct when tensions escalate to murder. Now it is her responsibility to figure out what really happened on Malabar Hill, and to ensure that no innocent women or children are in further danger.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Starred Review. [An] outstanding series launch ... The period detail and thoughtful characterizations, especially of the capable, fiercely independent lead, bode well for future installments." - Publishers Weekly

"Starred Review. In addition to getting an unusual perspective on women's rights and relationships, readers are treated to a full view of historical downtown Bombay...in an unforgettable olio that provides the perfect backdrop to the plot and subplots. Each of the many characters is uniquely described, flaws and all, which is the key to understanding their surprising roles in the well-constructed puzzle." - Booklist

"Starred Review. [Massey] does a wonderful job of taking life in India at the beginning of the 20th century. She gives enough cultural details without overwhelming readers with facts. The two plotlines wonderfully depict the development of the main character and the mystery as it unfolds ... Fresh and original." - Library Journal

"Perveen Mistry is an extraordinary heroine - one of the first female lawyers in India, she's whip smart, strong-willed, and, most importantly, compassionate. Defying convention while draped in a sari, Perveen is sure to join the leads of great mystery fiction." - Susan Elia MacNeal, New York Times bestselling author of the Maggie Hope mysteries

"With an indomitable heroine and a solid cast of sidekicks, this is the start of a series mystery readers should not miss." - Amulya Malladi, bestselling author of A House for Happy Mothers and The Copenhagen Affair

"Perveen is strong, tenacious and smart, just the kind of advocate you'd want to have on your side. And as someone who was born and raised in the city, I love the way in which Massey recreates colonial Bombay, down to the architecture, social interactions,politics and gender dynamics. You can feel the breeze coming off the Arabian Sea and taste the pastries at Yazdani's bakery." - Radha Vatsal, author of A Front Page Affair

"A fascinating setting, an extraordinary new sleuth, and a story that enthralls you - The Widows of Malabar Hill has all three and more. Sujata Massey's new historical series is absolutely terrific, and you are just going to love Perveen Mistry, India's first female lawyer." - Charles Todd, bestselling author of the Ian Rutledge series and the Bess Crawford series

"Introducing an incisive, sympathetic heroine with a painful past while shedding light on a fascinating cloistered historical world, The Widows of Malabar Hill is not only immediately engaging - it has staying power." - Lyndsay Faye, Edgar-nominated author of Gods of Gotham and Jane Steele

"Perveen Mistry is an unforgettable heroine, fighting for justice in an enigmatic, beautiful and flawed world. With gorgeous prose, Massey weaves a captivating mystery." - Allison Leotta, author of The Last Good Girl

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Reader Reviews

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Cloggie Downunder

a very enjoyable read
A Murder on Malabar Hill, also titled The Widows of Malabar Hill, is the first book in the Perveen Mistry series by award-winning British-born American author, Sujata Massey. Bombay in 1921 may not be ready for a female lawyer, but Jamshedji Mistry has given his daughter an education and Preveen Mistry is determined to contribute to Mistry Law. If catering to women needing legal services gives their firm an edge, then she will embrace that.

When Omar Farid dies, he leaves three widows. Perveen is dealing with the will when a request comes in from the household agent/guardian regards the family’s wakf that rouses her suspicion: all three widows have signed over their endowments to the wakf (family charity trust). However, the documents give cause for concern.

When she visits these women in purdah, she finds discrepancies in what they know about their gift to the wakf and the intended use of the funds; quite a few secrets between the women; and a distinct lack of harmony. Perveen is, nonetheless, resolute about her duty to the women and their interests. But, shortly after her visit, there is a brutal murder at the house…

A welcome distraction is the arrival of her college friend Alice Hobson-Jones, whose parents live on Malabar Hill, next to the Farid house. While Alice has her own problems, and issues of confidentiality preclude Perveen from sharing too much, she’s grateful to have Alice’s perspective.

She wishes, too, that she could share her concern about a disturbing glimpse of a man she had thought far away in Calcutta, Cyrus Sodawalla, with whom she has an unhappy history. As the story unfolds, each tidbit of information reveals another plausible motive for the murder and, more than once, Perveen has to check for possible conflicts of interest before she acts.

Perveen is a plucky and very likeable protagonist. Her backstory is told in flashbacks to 1916, describing how she came to be a lawyer and illustrating also her parents’ unfailing support. Her interactions with others indicate she needs to work on her poker-face and, at one point, she has fingers in so many pies that when she is kidnapped, she runs through a list of possible assailants.

Massey manages to include plenty of humour in this series debut, as well as a wealth of fascinating snippets of Indian social history. The restrictions that women faced at the time, both in law and through religion are demonstrated, and the practical concerns for women choosing to live in Purdah are shown. This is a very enjoyable read and another encounter with Perveen Mistry in The Satapur Moonstone will be eagerly awaited.
This unbiased review is from an uncorrected proof copy.

Mary

The Widows of Malabar Hill
Satisfying mystery, but the main enjoyment came from interesting facts about the lives of Indian women in the 1920s. Much was new to me. I highly recommend this book.

BeckyH

Murder and India
If you like historical fiction, especially India in early 20th century, and learning about different cultures and ways of life, you will like this book. While it is a murder mystery, it is also an exploration of the various cultures active in India from 1915 to 1922. The heroine is a young woman Parisi (Zoroastrian) who has trained to be a solicitor (lawyer) at Oxford and is working in her father’s firm when three widows, Muslims who live in Purda or complete seclusion from men, need a lawyer. A murder occurs, and Perveen, the untried female lawyer, is the only one who can enter the widows’ seclusion.
The situation of women of all faiths becomes integral to the plot, as do marriage customs, inheritance, family practices, the law, the role of the English in India, Indian independence, class strictures and even education and employment for women. While the plot moves slowly, the descriptions of a way of life unknown to most Americans, keeps the reader interested and reading. Besides a murder, there are also two kidnappings, financial shenanigans, jewelry theft, families in crisis, and other plot devices to keep interest high.
The noises, smells and flavors of Bombay and Calcutta set the scene. Clearly drawn characters and lively writing add to a tale well worth spending time with tea, curry and Perveen as she navigates the path forward with three widows who are clearly not sisters of the heart.
4 of 5 stars

CarolT

Average read
This came so highly rated, but I was disappointed. If you're interested in Bombay in the 20s, you might like it.

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Author Information

Sujata Massey Author Biography

Sujata Massey was born in England to parents from India and Germany, grew up in St. Paul, Minnesota, and lives in Baltimore, Maryland. She was a features reporter for the Baltimore Evening Sun before becoming a full-time novelist. Her novels have won the Agatha and Macavity awards and been finalists for the Edgar, Anthony, and Mary Higgins Clark prizes. The first Perveen Mistry novel, The Widows of Malabar Hill, was an international bestseller.

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