British, crime fiction, Feminism/feminist, Historical Fiction, Indian Literature, mystery, New Woman Fiction

The Widows of Malabar Hill

June 25, 2024
The Widows of Malabar Hill book cover

Sujata Massey’s series of detective novels set in 1920s India starts off with an intriguing glimpse into the lives of Muslim pardanashin, women who live in seclusion. The three widows of Omar Farid are being bamboozled out of their inheritance by a shady estate manager. Bombay’s only woman lawyer, Perveen Mistry, emerges as the detective character. She’s loosely based on Cornelia Sorabji, the first Indian woman to read law at Oxford–who really dedicated much of her working life to girls and women living in purdah who would not otherwise have legal representation due to the custom of female seclusion. The novel was a bit slow to take off, but around page 90, it became absolutely gripping. I was particularly interested in the detective’s English lady sidekick who is loosely hinted to be lesbian. Not sure I’ll make time to read the other novels in the series, but I’m curious how the characters of Perveen and her English friend will develop.

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