The Widows of Malabar Hill
Sometimes you need to work through the early chapters of a book to reap its rewards. That is how I felt about this historical mystery, set in India during the 1920s, when the country was under British Rule. In the first book of Massey’s mystery series, we meet Perveen Mistry, Bombay’s first female solicitor, who, because of her own disastrous marriage, is devoted to protecting women’s rights. Perveen grew up in a progressive Parsi family, studied at Oxford and now works beside her father, a successful lawyer.
In this story, Perveen represents the three widows of the recently deceased Omar Farid, a Muslim man. Razia, Sakima and Mumtaz live in complete seclusion at their Malabar Hill home where direct contact with males is forbidden and all communication must take place through a jali wall. The women are at the mercy of the estate trustee, Faisal Mukri, who wants to control the portions that are allotted to them. Most importantly, Perveen wants to make sure the women understand their rights.
Her drive to protect them is personal. In 1916 when Perveen was nineteen she met Cyrus Sodawalla, a dashing Parsi businessman from Calcutta. They seemed to make a great connection, but the Sodawallas had insisted Cyrus choose a wife from an approved list that did not include Perveen. After much negotiation, however, they married and moved across the country to live with Cyrus’s parents, who are Orthodox Parsis. Nothing was what Perveen expected: it was much worse. When she tried to get out she discovered that she had almost no rights.
Now, when Mukri turns up dead, Perveen finds herself in the middle of a murder investigation. Inspectors make an arrest, but is it the right person?
I do not want to spoil the rest because I think books are most enjoyable when you only know the premise. Besides learning a lot about India, the cultures and religions during this time period, I liked reading how Perveen gets to know the widows who seem to get along, but do they? The undercurrent of resentment becomes apparent as you read and learn more about each and why Farid married them. I was also fascinated by how the women coped, despite their isolation. In addition, the Sodawallas’ orthodox practices would make anyone want to escape!
Also at play is the country’s strained relationship with Great Britain and their disdain for the English government officials posted in India. They had years to go. The Crown rule in India would continue until 1947.
The Widows of Malabar Hill is the winner of the Agatha Award, the Macavity Award, the Lefty Award for Best Historical Mystery and the Mary Higgins Clark Award. Once I got into this story, I really enjoyed it. I would say you have to be willing to take the time to understand the setting and history and then it really takes off. My mystery book club agreed with me!
Thanks for visiting—come back soon!
You must be logged in to post a comment.