2020 Reviews · crime · historical fiction · India · mystery · new release

New Release Book Review: A Murder at Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey

Title: A Murder at Malabar Hilla murder at malabar hill small

Author: Sujata Massey

Published: January 7th 2020

Publisher: Allen & Unwin

Pages: 416

Genres:  Fiction, Historical, Crime, Mystery

RRP: $29.99

Rating: 3.5 stars

Introducing Miss Perveen Mistry, the star of an outstanding new crime series. This courageous, likeable and determined young lawyer-turned-sleuth will appeal to readers of Phryne Fisher and Precious Ramotswe in a stunning combination of crime and mystery set in 1920s Bombay.

Armed with a legal education from Oxford, Perveen Mistry has joined her father’s law firm, becoming one of the first female lawyers in India.

Mistry Law has been appointed to execute the will of Mr Omar Farid, a wealthy mill owner who has left three widows behind. But as Perveen examines the paperwork, she notices something strange: all three wives have signed over their full inheritance to a charity. What future will they have?

Perveen is suspicious, especially since one of the widows has signed her form with an X-could she even read the document? The Farid widows live in strict seclusion, never leaving the women’s quarters or speaking to any men. With her own tragic history close to her heart, Perveen worries that the women are vulnerable to injustice.

As Perveen comes closer to the truth, tensions escalate to murder, the widows fall under suspicion and Perveen must figure out what’s really happening on Malabar Hill.

Review:

With four awards to her name, successful author Sujata Massey has released the first book in a new series featuring female lawyer turned detective, Perveen Mistry. A Murder at Malabar Hill Is a 2020 Allen and Unwin publication, which was originally released in the US in 2018 as The Widows of Malabar Hill. Fans of cosy mystery novels and readers who appreciate rich cultural tales will find great value in this intriguing story.

A Murder at Malabar Hill welcomes Perveen Mistry, the enigmatic lead of a new mystery series set in India in the 1920s. Perveen is no stranger to crime. Since she graduated from Oxford University with a law degree, Perveen has supported her father’s law firm, by becoming one of the team and the first female lawyer in the country. When her father is procured to settle the will arrangements of a wealthy mill owner, who has three wives, Perveen’s assistance in the case leads to some interesting discrepancies. While examining the paperwork in detail, Perveen notices that the deceased, Mr Omar Farid, has signed over his fortune to a charity, not his three wives. Naturally Perveen is confused, and  she resolves to settle the matter. With her own experiences in marriage playing on her mind, Perveen is sure that these women have been unfairly overlooked. As Perveen delves further and further into this complex case, she exposes a difficult situation, marred by tension, murder, ambition and wealth. Malabar Hill does not give up its secrets so easily, as Perveen soon realises in her crusade to get to the truth.

A Murder at Malabar Hill is my first taste of the writing of Sujata Massey, an author who has quite a few accolades to her name. A Murder at Malabar Hill signals the first issue in a fresh new series featuring Perveen Misty. Perveen is a character modelled on real life figures and she is quite the trailblazer. Within the book we observe Perveen making inroads in the Indian society and the system of law present in the 1920s.

Perveen’s story unveils via two narrative folds. One thread tracks Perveen’s life as a university graduate, followed by her experiences as a wife to Cyrus Sodawalla. This storyline is situated in the year 1916. The second narrative sees the book leap forward in time to 1921. In this particular story segment, we meet Perveen in a professional capacity, as a lawyer assisting her father’s firm. Perveen is also trying to put her doomed marriage behind her. In the 1921 thread, Perveen fancies herself as a detective of sorts, as she becomes embroiled in the central case of the novel,  which involves an inheritance settlement and three widows. I enjoyed travelling between these two time periods and I thought Massey handled the transitions well. The novel gently progressed forward in an agreeable manner.

The central case itself wasn’t too taxing and but it was interesting enough for me to journey through this novel from start to finish. The mystery presented in A Murder at Malabar Hill highlights issues of wealth, entitlement, prejudice, marital expectations and gender relations of this time period and specific locale. Supporting the themes of female oppression during this time and place are Perveen’s confessions about the state of her marriage in the past narrative. I found this aspect of the story enlightening, but also upsetting. I was shocked by the treatment of women during this time, it was cruel and demeaning. It was inescapable for many women across India, as it was deemed normal practice. Perveen’s situation and aspirations as the first female lawyer of her time also highlights the extent of the male dominated world inhabited by our pioneering lead.

What I appreciated the most about A Murder at Malabar Hill was the finer details of life in India, particularly in the wealthy Bombay region in the 1920s. I relished the descriptions of the food and many of the dishes described by Massey had me in sensory heaven. I also enjoyed reading about the culture, fashions, general customs and religious beliefs of this country and time period. Massey situates her reader well in a tale of times past.  For those who struggle with some of the language and cultural phrasing in the novel, Massey has thoughtfully included a glossary explaining many of these Indian terms. A map of the key locations of the book precedes the story, which I found to be a valuable addition. Finally, a glimpse into the next installment of Perveen Mistry’s adventures is supplied at the close of A Murder at Malabar Hill, encouraging readers to put the second book in the series on their TBR list.

A Murder at Malabar Hill is an old world mystery novel that harks back to classic detective tales penned by greats such as Agatha Christie. Sujata Massey’s novel contains a strong air of mystery, a vibrant setting and bold characters. This rich cultural tale will definitely entertain a wide audience range.

A Murder at Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey was published on 7th January 2020 by Allen & Unwin. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.

To learn more about the author of A Murder at Malabar Hill, Sujata Massey, visit here.

*Thanks extended to Allen & Unwin for providing a free copy of this book for review purposes.

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