The Widows of Malabar Hill

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 01 Mar 2018

Member Reviews

One of the great things about books is that you can travel to another time period and other cultures to see the world through others eyes. This book is set in Bombay in 1921 with a backstory in 1916. Pervert and her family live in the Parsi community and we learn of that cultures treatment of women while watching our main character solve the murder.
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I have loved Sujata Massey's work since I first read Girl in a Box (and then had to go and read all the Rei Shimura titles), so I was really excited to see a new work from her. I found this to be a enjoyable read that seemed to plod a bit in places. I liked the historical detail but felt that it was a bit overdone. That being said, I plan to read the next title in the series.
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This mystery had three things going for it. It was in a time and place, early 20th Century Bombay, that was different and thus interesting. Iit had a believable, relevant backstory about the first woman lawyer in that time and place.  Finally, the mystery at the core was excellent.
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I had such a good time reading this book. The author does a great job in weaving together two plots, one from 1917 and the other 1921 and keeping the reader in suspense on both ends. The setting is beautifully drawn and quite varied, exposing the reader to a number of different aspects of Indian society from the very early 20th century. Perveen Mistry is a spirited heroine with a lot of good luck on her side but it's impossible to hold that good luck against such a charming character.
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The Widows of Malabar Hill touched me deeply in many ways. First, it reached me as a professional -- one who is fortunate not to have struggled in the ways that Purveen did, but who has heard the stories of women who have.  Then it touched me with Purveen's interactions with cultures different from her own -- one that she worked with and one that she fought hard to survive. Her comeback touched me even more deeply.
I do wonder if this will be a series. Highly recommended to those who are interested in women's history, the legal profession, and/or India.....and much more!
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Such a great book and it is written so goid. Drawn from the very first pages
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Sujata Massey has created an irresistible heroine in Perveen Mistry, Bombay’s first female solicitor. It’s 1921, and Perveen balances her modern ideas with the too traditional ideas of colonial India. Massey never crosses over into anachronism; Perveen remains an observant, if not too strict, Parsee, but she’s a determined young woman and a champion for other women in a society where they almost never get a break. 

Perveen goes to interview the three widows of a late client of her father, Jamshedji Mistry, one of Bombay’s most esteemed lawyers. She suspects that the women — two of whom have spent their entire lives in purdah (isolation) — are being bamboozled by the late husband’s estate trustee, Faisal Mukri. But before long, the shifty Mukri has been murdered, and the widows are the obvious suspects. Massey does yeoman’s work in the plot set in 1921. Unfortunately, she cuts back and forth between 1921 and a less-interesting backstory from 1916 that slowed the novel to crawl each time and left me impatient to get back to the suspenseful mystery. It was irritating enough to dock the rating a star. A more gifted writer (I’m talking about you, Laurie R. King) would have woven the backstory into the main timeline.

Now, back to the positive. Tarquin Hall’s Vish Puri novels and Davies’ Marcus Didius Falco novels serve as lessons on modern India and Ancient Rome, respectively, with the education seamlessly interwoven in the wonderful plots; here, Massey is up to the same challenge. She introduces readers to the smells, sounds and sights of colonial India; the domestic lives of Parsee, Hindu and Muslim; and the hopes of women — English and Indian — who dreamed of a fuller life. And, lucky us! As this is the first of a series, readers will get many more tastes of colonial India — and less of the sour taste of intercutting stories.

In the interest of full disclosure, I received this book from NetGalley and Soho Press in exchange for an honest review.
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This was a well written lovely story about a fearless woman in India. I loved the characters, the setting and the way it was written. I look forward to the rest of the trilogy for sure!
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Intricate look at early 20th century life for an Indian woman, told through the lens of a murder mystery. Well written, fascinating characters. Great for the mystery lover, historical fiction lover, or women's studies major in your life.
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This wouldn’t be a book for everybody—and that would be a shame. Massey has done a lot of research about India’s first female lawyer, Cornelia Sorabji, a Parsi called to the Bar in London, who also wrote novels of women’s experience. She has not based her heroine, the attorney Perveen Mistry, on Sorabji’s life (Perveen read Law in Oxford), but used it as the foundation of a crime novel set in 1920s Bombay, and writes her historical fiction from a contemporary angle. I cannot think of a novel published in India that has as much sociological nous as this one. For one thing, it includes a serious case of venereal disease caught from the heroine’s husband. For another, it has some stomach-churning descriptions of what happened to women when they were menstruating. For a third, it’s hard to imagine a woman lawyer managing to help a house full of purdah ladies after the death of their husband and making a good job of it. Perveen has high social status, good connections, and a supportive family—so it’s not all the horrors of women’s helplessness. She’s obviously a character who’s going to be part of a series—and I can’t wait to see what happens next.
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My favorite kind of mystery — my favorite kind of book, really — is one with a very detailed setting that introduces me to a world that is unfamiliar.  This book definitely did that for me.  Kudos to Ms. Massey for what appears to be a beautifully researched visit to the multiple cultures, family structures, and legal codes of 1920’s Bombay. Sequels, please!
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In Bombay in the 1920s, Perveen is the only female solicitor, and she has had to endure many hardships to reach that point. As part of her work for her father's law office, she assists in an estate case involving a longtime client who has died, and his three widows who have chosen to isolate themselves according to the custom of purdah. The will is complicated and difficult to sort out because the three women may not have any face to face contact with men. Their agent turns up murdered, and Perveen suspects that he has been less than honest with the widows. Meanwhile, her best friend, a classmate from Oxford, has arrived in Bombay, and is a neighbor of the widows. Even more interesting to me than the murder mystery is Perveen's back story, told intermittently. We learn of her romance with a handsome charming man from Calcutta who becomes the love of her life. After they are married and she moves in with his parents who have orthodox antiquated beliefs about women, her life becomes a hell until she leaves Calcutta and she returns to Bombay and then to Oxford. The narrative is fast-moving and very interesting for the cultural and historical insights into 1920s India. Because I was reading an ebook, I didn't realize there was a glossary at the back of the book. Although it would have been helpful, the story's context made most foreign terms easy enough to understand.
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The first book in a new historical fiction/mystery series, The Widows of Malabar Hill features Perveen Mistry, a character based on Cornelia Sorabji, one of the first female attorneys in India. In this installment, Perveen is representing the interest of three widows who choose to live in purdah, a cultural practice of seclusion. Their husband has recently died and they have been left under the care of a shady estate agent. When the estate agent ends up dead in their house, Perveen must figure out who has done the deed in order to protect her clients. As the story progresses, the reader also gets flashbacks to Perveen's past, in which she struggles with a difficult marriage and strict in-laws. The mystery takes place in 1921, while the flashbacks take place in 1916 and 1917.

This book is a perfect example of the type of historical fiction that I really enjoy. It has a solid story line, but also dives deep into the details of the time and place in which the story took place. India is a region that I know very little about, so I was excited to learn all about the different cultures that lived together in Bombay. The story also had a deep feminist edge, featured when the book discussed the lack of equal rights that women had in  1920s India, particularly when it comes to divorce and education.. I especially appreciated the flashback story line that gave depth and strength to Perveen's character. 

I would recommend this book to fans of Rhys Bowen's Her Royal Spyness series and Jacqueline Winspear's Maisie Dobbs series.
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I loved, loved, loved this! Usually mysteries aren’t my thing, but this had such great characters and one thing I like the most about great historical novels: that feeling of being transported to another place in time and getting lost there. Perveen Mistry is a strong female character based on a real person who seems true to her time and place. I enjoyed my trip with Perveen to 1920s Bombay and cannot wait for her next adventure!
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I think this book is the start of a new series—or anyway, I hope it is, because I enjoyed it a lot. It’s set in 1920s Bombay, and centers on a young woman who is Bombay's first female lawyer (working for her awesome supportive lawyer father). Her gender comes in handy when some discrepancies pop up concerning a Muslim estate whose three widows live in purda (seclusion)—and then there’s a murder. This is all interspersed with flashbacks to a dark time in her past. She also has an English best friend from Oxford who is a not-so-secret lesbian. It’s one of those mysteries that is just as much about the characters and settings as it is the actual mystery plot, and I hope to see more of it soon. A-
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It is 1921 and the Indian subcontinent is experiencing change as agitation for independence from Britain grows stronger and many traditions are challenged. In multicultural Bombay, modern times are personified in the city's first female attorney, Oxford-educated Perveen Mistry, a member of the minority Parsi community. Although employed by her father's law firm, the young woman is not permitted to argue cases in court and works primarily behind the scenes, until she is asked to assist more directly with a case involving three recently bereaved Muslim women who live secluded in their home according to the strictures of purdah. Her own horrific marital history gives Perveen useful insight into how the widows may have been cheated out of their rights, but she does not anticipate being drawn into a deadly situation that escalates into abduction and homicide. With compelling characters and a colorful setting this novel brings a bygone time to vibrant life, thanks to the author's extensive background research. Many readers will want to see more of Perveen in the future.
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This wonderful mystery set in 1920's Bombay, is on my Keeper Shelf.   Perveen Mistry, a female lawyer in her father's firm, investigates a suspicious will on behalf of three widows.  As a murder is solved, details of Perveen's tragic marriage are revealed through flashbacks, and the terrible treatment of women is highlighted.  I was transported to 1920's India and call myself very fortunate that I didn't have to take up residence there!  If you care about women's rights issues, this novel is a must read.  Please quickly bring on the next Perveen Mistry story!
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THE WIDOWS OF MALABAR HILL by Sujata Massey is a mystery story that appealed to me as much for the suspense as for its unique setting – early 20th century Bombay, India - and its clever, brave heroine, Preveen Mistry.  She is the daughter of a prominent Bombay lawyer and therefore lives a life of privilege, but still she seeks justice and is naturally curious.  The story, based in part on actual people, begins in 1921 with Preveen acting as Bombay's first female lawyer. She is working to help clarify the financial situation for three Muslim widows living in full purdah, or seclusion from men. Learning about the various cultural practices was fascinating and Massey did an excellent job of weaving the details into Preveen's efforts to keep the widows safe and solve a murder which occurred in their residence. 
 
There are several flashbacks to 1916 which explain events in Preveen's own life that have reinforced her efforts to protect the rights of women. Booklist, Library Journal and Publishers Weekly all gave THE WIDOWS OF MALABAR HILL a starred review and you can read an excerpt at this link.  Somehow, I had not realized that Sujata Massey had written other award-winning mysteries and now certainly look forward to reading several of those titles as well as the next Preveen Mistry story. 

Link in post: https://sohopress.com/books/the-widows-of-malabar-hill/ 

4.5 stars
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Inspired by historical events, the author paints a picture of multicultural Bombay in the 1920s.  This novel is about a woman lawyer who has a personal view of women's rights.  She also is a likable and and intelligent sleuth.
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I really enjoyed this book! It's a mystery story in the tradition of Agatha Christie and Jacqueline Winspear, but set in 1920s India with an engaging protagonist: Perveen Mistry, who hopes to be the first female lawyer in Bombay. She is particularly interested in helping women, especially when she can help in ways that men cannot. There are also extended flashbacks to her short and unhappy marriage. Although the mystery was nothing special (but a perfectly adequate page-turner!), the world-building in this book was excellent. I enjoyed learning about India in the 1920s, as well as the various religions explored, especially from the perspective of an unconventional woman!
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