A Thousand Steps

A Thousand Steps
A Thousand Steps by T. Jefferson Parker

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

The Widows of Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey- Feature and Review


Bombay, 1921: 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 her especially devoted to championing and protecting women's rights.

Mistry Law is handling the will of Mr. Omar Farid, a wealthy Muslim mill owner who has left three widows behind. But as Perveen goes through the papers, she notices something strange: all three have signed over their inheritance to a charity. What will they live on if they forefeit what their husband left them? Perveen is suspicious.

The Farid widows live in purdah: 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 about the will were correct when tensions escalate to murder. It's her responsibility to figure out what really happened on Malabar Hill, and to ensure that nobody is in further danger.



The Widows of Malabar Hill (Perveen Mistry, #1)The Widows of Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Widows of Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey is a 2018 Soho Press publication.

Set in 1920s Bombay, Perveen Mistry, is one of the first female lawyers in India. Although she works in her father’s law firm, as a woman she isn’t allowed to argue a case in court.

But, when a wealthy mill owner dies, his three widows, who are practitioners of Purdah, express a desire to donate their inheritance to charity. As the executor of his will, this development raises Perveen’s suspicions. She decides a visit to the widows is in order so that they fully understand their rights. However, she quickly finds herself embroiled in a genuine murder mystery when the estate trustee is found murdered.

The story moves back and forth between ‘present day’ 1920s and 1916, revealing Perveen's shocking and painful history.

Like most avid readers I have books that languished on my TBR list for ages before I finally got around to reading them. I’ve had my eye on this one for at least a year. I knew it was a book I’d been excited to try, but at this point I can’t remember how the book was marketed. I’m thinking I probably added it because of the cultural and historical aspects, but of course I’m never one to turn down a good mystery.

I have since learned that Perveen’s character was based on two real life trailblazers, Camelia Sorabji and Mithan Tata Lam, which is most interesting and inspiring.

As with any attempt to combine two genres, a skilled balancing act is required. While the story flips back and forth between the 1920s and 1916, the author chose not to alternate the chapters, as is standard with many dual timeline stories. I think there was a reason why the author inserted the flashbacks to 1916 in this manner, but for those who are tuning in strictly for the mystery, the momentum and pacing might feel a bit jarring.

However, as a huge fan of historical fiction, I was very invested in Perveen’s backstory, and didn’t mind taking a break from the mystery in order to understand her personally, to discover the drive behind her passion, her devotion to women’s rights, and her sensitivities to the widows and why she fought to protect them and discover the truth behind the murder.

I love developing an emotional attachment to my crime solvers, whether it be a seasoned detective or an amateur sleuth. As this looks to be the first book in a planned series, the author has laid out a solid foundation to build not only good mysteries, but cultural history and character growth. I'm pretty sure Perveen could become one of my favorite characters!

I found every part of this story fascinating. The cultural landscape and the historical details were incredible. I found myself doing a few Google searches and I will certainly look at the suggested reading the author provided.

The murder mystery is one of the best I’ve read a long while. Recently, it has occurred to me that pure mysteries are not as common as they once were. Unless one turns to the cozy mystery genre for a genuine whodunit, most books falling into the mystery category are more focused on the psychological, action, or suspense elements, than on guessing who the culprit is. So, I’m buoyed by the popularity of this book, and hope it jump starts authentic mysteries back into mainstream popularity again.

Overall, I enjoyed this book immensely. I have the second book on hold at the library right now.

Can’t wait to see our courageous protagonist back in action!






Sujata Massey is an award-winning author of historical and mystery fiction set in Asia.
However, her personal story begins in England, where she was born to parents from India and Germany who began reading to her shortly after her birth. Sujata kept on reading as she grew up mostly in the United States (California, Pennsylvania and Minnesota) and earned her BA from the Johns Hopkins University's Writing Seminars program. Her first job was as a reporter at the Baltimore Evening Sun newspaper, where she wrote stories about fashion, food and culture. Although she loved her work, she left when she got married to a young naval officer posted to Japan.

Sujata and her husband lived in the Tokyo-Yokohama area which forms most of the settings of her Rei Shimura mysteries. The eleven novel series has collected many mystery award nominations, including the Edgar, Anthony, and Mary Higgins Clark awards, and even won a few: the Agatha and Macavity prizes for traditional mystery fiction. The Rei Shimura mysteries are published in 18 countries. The first book in the series is THE SALARYMAN'S WIFE, and the eleventh is THE KIZUNA COAST which was listed as the most-borrowed ebook is the Self-E Library reads borrowing program for 2016. Rei Shimura mystery short stories are in MURDER MOST CRAFTY, MALICE DOMESTIC 10, AND MURDER MOST CRAFTY.

In 2013, Sujata began writing about India. THE SLEEPING DICTiONARY is a historic espionage novel set in 1930s-40s Calcutta told from a young Bengali woman's point of view. It's also out as a Dreamworks audiobook, and is published in India, Italy and Turkey under different titles. This was followed by INDIA GRAY HISTORIC FICTION, an ebook and paperback collection of stories and novellas featuring strong Asian women heroines throughout history. Included is a story featuring Kamala from THE SLEEPING DICTIONARY and a prequel novelette featuring Perveen Mistry. A Perveen story is included in THE USUAL SANTAS, a story anthology to be published in October 2017.

Sujata's next book is THE WIDOWS OF MALABAR HILL, a historical mystery set in 1920s Bombay that comes out in January 2018 from Soho Press in the US. It also releases as THE MALABAR HILL MYSTERY in February 2018 from Penguin/Random India. The first in the new Perveen Mistry series, it's an exciting story about Bombay's first woman lawyer. Perveen, the 23-year-old daughter of a distinguished Parsi family, is convinced her clients--three widows and four children--are in danger. Can she use the law to save them, or will it take more action?

You can sign up for an early look at the book, giveaways and more perks by joining AsiaFile, Sujata's free reader newsletter. Visit sujatamassey.com for details.

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