A Murder at Malabar Hill, Sujata Massey

Reviewed By
Karen Chisholm

A MURDER AT MALABAR HILL introduces Miss Perveen Mistry, a young lawyer-turned-sleuth in 1920's Bombay. This novel is the winner of (amongst other awards), the 2019 Mary Higgins Clark Award, the 2019 Lefty Award for Best Historical novel and the 2018 Agatha Award for Best Historical Novel. It is, needless to say, from the cosier side of the genre equation.

The debut novel in a series, a lot of focus in this outing is on setting up the character and experience of Perveen Mistry. She's India's first female solicitor, a young woman in her mid twenties, working alongside her much respected father.

The timelines of the story are set in two particular periods of Mistry's life, a recent historical one containing a lot of personal information about her family, her time as a student at Oxford University, and her short-lived marriage. The current timeline focuses on a murder that has occurred in Malabar Hill, an upmarket neighbourhood in Bombay, in the household of three Muslim widows. After their husband, Omar Farid, died, his wives - Razia, Sakina and Mumtaz and their children live in Purdah (secluded life), with all external interactions controlled by their household agent, Mr Mukri. Mistry is tasked with finalising Farid's estate, in the process unearthing some oddities, that, because she's female she can discuss with the wives. After her visit, Mukri is murdered, and Mistry becomes increasingly worried about the fate of the widows themselves.

The whos and whys of the murder are not particularly tricky to work out pretty early on however, and this is definitely not a novel for those that prefer fast paced, intricately plotted stories. There is a lot of ancillary in A MURDER AT MALABAR HILL, some of which is interesting - the various religious beliefs, and how the communities function, and many of their cultural practices.

Fans of the cosier style of slower paced, densely packed novels could find this particularly rewarding reading. It's a period of time and place that's not much written about in crime fiction, and the female perspective, particularly that of a young professional woman at a time when women did not do these sorts of jobs, will appeal to many readers.


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A legally-minded sleuth takes to the streets of 1920s Bombay in a fascinating new mystery.

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 A Murder at Malabar Hill, Sujata Massey
Karen Chisholm
Friday, August 21, 2020

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