With this review, I will finish my 1/4 CBR, so I am feeling very proud right now!
I read The Widows of Malabar Hill some time ago – I mentioned sitting by the side of a lake in northern North Dakota in a previous review, and that is where I read this, as well. However, I had read quite a bit by Sujata Massey before – she had a series about a biracial detective, Rei Shimura, which often featured travel to Japan, and had pretty gripping mysteries. I had not read anything by her in a number of years when I stumbled across this mystery.
Perveen Mistry is a Parsee woman living in Bombay in the 1920s who studied law at Oxford. She provides some services for her father’s law firm, but most clients don’t want her to handle their work because of her sex and she is not allowed to argue cases in court. She finally gets a chance to operate somewhat independently because of questions about how the three widows of a wealthy mill owner have chosen to handle his will – namely, signing over their stakes to a charity. The women live in purdah, or strict seclusion within the women’s quarters of the home, so Perveen is the only lawyer who can interact with them. She has to overcome their fear of outsiders and her modern viewpoint in order to earn their trust. She is determined to fight for their choices, even if she doesn’t agree with them, in part because of her own complex, painful history.
Massey did a lot of research in order to understand Bombay in the 1920s and the role of pioneer women lawyers in India, and it really shows in the story. The descriptions of Bombay are wonderful. Further, the contrasts between modernity and the past and the different cultural and religious practices highlight Perveen’s sensitivity, creativity, and charm, as she digs deeply into the mystery. And the mystery is a good one! There are clues and red herrings and I didn’t feel like Mistry relied on sleight of hand or deus ex machina to solve the mystery. All in all, this is a very enjoyable read and I will be looking for the next book in the series.