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The Widows of Malabar Hill (A Perveen Mistry…
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The Widows of Malabar Hill (A Perveen Mistry Novel) (edition 2018)

by Sujata Massey (Author)

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4603035,430 (3.9)39
"Introducing an extraordinary female lawyer-sleuth in a new historical series set in 1920s Bombay. 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 law degree from Oxford, Perveen also has a tragic personal history that makes her especially devoted to championing and protecting women's legal rights. 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 is going through 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 if they forfeit what their husband left them? 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 about the will 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."--… (more)
Member:nwhyte
Title:The Widows of Malabar Hill (A Perveen Mistry Novel)
Authors:Sujata Massey (Author)
Info:Soho Crime (2018), Edition: Deluxe, 432 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:
Tags:u♀, b19, unread, non-genre

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The Widows of Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey

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» See also 39 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 30 (next | show all)
What a terrific novel! The setting, Bombay in the 1920's, is unfamiliar and enthralling. The perspective, that of a Parsee lady lawyer with a complicated story of her own, is unique as far as I am aware. And the story line moves right along, pulling the reader through a fascinating world. More, please! ( )
  annbury | Nov 11, 2019 |
I was looking for another mystery series and opted for this highly-rated first instalment in a series set in early 20th-century India where the protagonist is Bombay’s first female solicitor.

Preveen Mistry is a member of a wealthy and well-respected Parsi family. Oxford-educated, she works alongside her father in the family law firm. A client has died and left the financial affairs of his three widows in the hands of Faisal Mukri, his household agent. When Mukri writes to the law firm indicating that the widows want to relinquish their portions of their husband’s assets to an Islamic charitable trust, Preveen worries that the women, who live in strict seclusion, may not be aware of the full consequences of their decision. Anxious to protect their interests, she meets with them and determines that tensions exist among the three women. Then a murder occurs and several people in the household, including the widows, have motives. Preveen is determined to uncover the truth.

Interspersed with this mystery is Preveen’s backstory. Via flashbacks to five years earlier, we learn of Preveen’s whirlwind romance with Cyrus Sodawalla, a relationship initially kept hidden from her family. Though the details are revealed slowly, there are several hints that the results of that relationship were disastrous; for example, her best friend comments, “’Interesting, isn’t it, that neither you nor I can marry?’” It becomes clear that Preveen’s experiences have made her the woman she is, a passionate defender of the rights of women.

Preveen is an appealing heroine. She is intelligent, determined and spirited. Because of the personal struggles she has endured, she is compassionate and thoughtful. Because she lives in a time and place where misogyny is part of the culture and even refusing to comply with a man’s request is dangerous, she has many constraints on her freedom. Nonetheless, she manages to do what she feels she must do to protect the widows and pursue truth and justice. Fortunately for her, her gender gives her access to the widows that official investigators do not have, and she has a very supportive family. Preveen is likeable as well because her actions and words show she values gender equality, religious tolerance, and racial harmony.

At first, I found myself getting impatient with the story of Preveen’s romance with Cyrus; it almost felt like the book was becoming more of a romance than a mystery or legal thriller. However, I’m glad I persevered because that part of the narrative explains so much about Preveen and illuminates the treatment of women in India one hundred years ago, even those women who had the advantages of wealth.

I’ve always been fascinated by India and its diversity, and this novel depicts that diversity so well. There is a great deal of information about food, cultural traditions and religious practices, but it is not given in a heavy-handed fashion but as an integral part of the narrative. Reading the book is like breaking down the barriers between peoples, “The boundaries communities drew around themselves [that] seemed to narrow their lives – whether it was women and men, Hindus and Muslims, or Parsis and everyone else.”

The Widows of Malabar Hill is a perfect summer read. A second book in the series was released in May; I will definitely be picking up The Satapur Moonstone.

Note: Please check out my reader's blog (https://schatjesshelves.blogspot.com) and follow me on Twitter (@DCYakabuski). ( )
  Schatje | Aug 29, 2019 |
Perveen Mistry lives in Bombay in 1921, working as lawyer with her father. A probate case she's assisting with involves three widows who have practiced purdah and apparently agreed to give up their inheritance to charity. Perveen becomes suspicious and convinces her father to let her talk with these women. Then the case turns deadly.

I enjoyed the setting and details about tensions between religions - Perveen and her family are Parsi and Zoroastrian, while others in their community are Hindu or Muslim - as well as the law in India in that time. The story takes on dual timelines and explains Perveen's history, which was interesting but didn't really add to the story or the mystery and instead felt a bit more contrived than a straightforward narrative might have been. The lengths in the shifts of timeline were varied and seemed to have no rhyme or reason, leaving me feeling a little out of rhythm and impatient with the story. I will most likely continue the series, as the setting intrigues me and I'm interested in seeing how Perveen's story unfolds. ( )
  bell7 | Jul 7, 2019 |
It took me more than little while to really get grabbed by this story, but once I did, I raced to the end. The story takes place in India and mostly vacillates from 1921 and 1916. Perveen is the only female solicitor in Bombay, and customs and laws often curtail her efforts. She works in her father’s law firm, and has been assigned to sort out the legal problems of three widows who shared one husband. But many other problems are encountered by Perveen as she deals with the widows, including murder. Adding to Perveen’s stress is a tragedy in her past. The novel is well written and the characters are well developed. The reader will be introduced to the customs and rules of the various ethnicities, especially for women at that time. Perhaps the author could have eliminated some of the details on law and contracts and inheritance percentages to forward the story a little faster, and keeping unfamiliar names straight may be a bit of a challenge, but all in all, it was quite an interesting and informative read. ( )
  Maydacat | Jul 4, 2019 |
Set in early 20th century Bombay, The Widows of Malabar Hill centers on Perveen Mistry, one of the first female solicitors in India. She has joined her father’s law firm. Though she has a legal education at Oxford, she cannot argue cases in court. Thus she spends most of her time dealing with contracts, wills, etc., while her father represents clients in the courtroom.

The firm has been appointed to execute the will of a wealthy Muslim man. His three widows have all signed paperwork stating that their full inheritance will go to a charity. Perveen is suspicious. The widows live in seclusion and cannot speak face-to-face with a man, only speaking to their appointed male guardian through a grid work-type window. They have almost no contact with the outside world. Perveen, as a female, wants to talk to each of the widows to make certain that they understand the legal documents they have signed. As she begins to investigate, a murder occurs in the house. And it looks like the culprit may be one of the household members.

The book flips between the past and present. The present story revolves around the widows and the murder. The past centers on Perveen’s disastrous marriage to a wealthy but unscrupulous young man, her life with her extremely traditional in-laws, and the heartbreak and betrayals that have given her a passion for women’s legal rights.

The author has obviously done her research into the subject matter, and it shows. I learned so much about India in the early 20th century.

What didn’t work for me:
The dual timeline wasn’t effective. The sections are long enough (several chapters each) that I became absorbed in that time period’s storyline. That’s fine. But that made the switch to a different time period jarring. My absorption momentarily broke at those points.

The other problem is that the past storyline (about Perveen’s disastrous marriage), though interesting, had little bearing on the present storyline (Perveen’s murder investigation). I felt like I was reading two different stories. Both were interesting on their own. While I understand the author wanted to show why Perveen’s tragic background fueled her desire for fair treatment of the widows and their children, the past storyline was needlessly drawn out. It could have been reduced to much shorter flashbacks and woven into the present story. I didn’t need to know most of the information from the past.

Many of the non-English terms were not defined in the glossary. It was frustrating to read an unfamiliar Urdu or Hindi or Parsi word, flip to the back, and not find it defined. It broke my absorption in the story.

What worked for me:
Perveen as a protagonist. She’s smart, impulsive, and filled with longing for the wisdom and knowledge that her father has, such as knowing how to deal with the police or knowing the law. I also really liked that she’s loyal and caring. She’s always protective of the widow’s children’s well-being, but she’s also concerned for the child servants. After the murder, she urges the police not to force the children to clean up the bloodied crime scene.

Recently, I’ve read too many “strong” female protagonists who are selfish, cold, and reject all traditional “feminine” qualities just to be independent. But empathy is part of what make us human. Perveen strikes the right balance between being strong and caring, and I appreciate that.

The cultural clashes. There’s the clash between the British rulers (represented by her friend Alice’s family) and their Indian subjects. There are clashes between the various religions: Muslim versus Hindu, with different marital laws, customs, and ways of wearing a sari. There are the differing customs even among the particular religions; for example, Perveen and her family have never secluded themselves during menstruation but it is customary in her husband’s family.

The interesting and horrifying details about the treatment of women in 1920s India. The marital laws were oppressive. Perveen’s forced seclusion during menstruation (because her mother-in-law fears that she will “contaminate” the rest of the household) is shocking.

The dynamics of the polygamous family seem realistic. The widows are sister-rivals, and though outwardly they live in harmony, tensions and competition run beneath the surface. I’ve read other books with polygamy, and the dynamics here jive with what I’ve previously read.

Overall, I mostly liked the book. I would definitely read other books by this author. 3 1/2 stars. ( )
  MeredithRankin | Jun 7, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 30 (next | show all)
The Widows of Malabar Hill is wholly satisfying..Perveen, daughter of an established Zoroastrian family in Bombay, works alongside her father, Jamshedji Mistry, a progressive man whose lifelong dream has been to have his daughter work with him at the family law firm. Why he wants this for her is one of the most heartwarming aspects of the novel, and is slowly revealed along with many other details that make this family one I plan to follow through as many storylines as possible.... Her tale is one that is just as absorbing as the murder mystery and has a quiet power all its own. Each thread is carefully paced; Massey clearly knows just what she's doing, which is giving readers both a captivating whodunit and a lasting base for more books featuring this same cast of characters. Massey is also making a case for gender equality, religious tolerance and racial harmony and it's a lovely thing that she does so with such understated persistence..And, happily, although the denouement is wholly satisfying, there is much left unsaid, particularly about some of the supporting cast members
 

» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Massey, Sujataprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Agro, JanineDesignersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Davidson, AndrewCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Nankani, SoneelaNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Schwartzberg, PhilipInterior mapssecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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For Karin and Bharat Parekh,
who introduced me to Bombay
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On the morning Perveen saw the stranger, they’d almost collided.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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amazon ca :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.

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.

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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