It’s rare for me to so immediately relax into a book and become a reader rather than the reviewer, but that’s what I did with A Murder at Malabar Hill. Right from the opening I knew I was in expert hands, as author Sujata Massey’s polished writing swept me up into this marvellous novel.
A Murder at Malabar Hill is a historical mystery set in Bombay in 1921, with a duel subplot set a few years earlier. The main character is the fabulous Miss Perveen Mistry, the first female solicitor in India, who has an Oxford education and now works for her father’s firm. This courageous, likeable and determined young lawyer-turned-sleuth will appeal to readers of Phryne Fisher and Precious Ramotswe.
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. Perveen has her own tragic history, so 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.
With a slew of awards already, A Murder at Malabar Hill is the first instalment of what promises to be an exceptional series. I adored the setting and Massey’s descriptions of 1920s Bombay are vivid and fascinating. Perveen is Parsi, so the novel offers an interesting glimpse into that affluent, cultured community as well.
Tight plotting, exceptional writing and truly fabulous characters make this novel a joy to read. Massey’s light and colourful prose belies the more important themes in the book, such as women’s rights. Parveen has a background story that unfolds and appears to be setting up future books, which is great to know because I for one will be lining up for each new instalment. If you’re looking for a great read for the new year, this is it. An absolute pleasure.