Review: The Widows of Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey

A purely fantastic summer read that has mystery, romance, drama, friendship and strife. Set in 1920s Bombay (and briefly in Calcutta), it follows the life story and current work of Perveen Mistry, Bombay’s first woman lawyer. While she’s investigating a suspicious case wherein three Muslim widows have declared they want to give up all of their inheritance in favour of the family charity fund, Perveen gets more than she’s bargained for, including a murder committed minutes after she’s left the widows’ zenana after their first private consultation with her. 35133064

Parallel to her investigation of the case, we get the story of her past and how she ended up a single woman working a man’s job at her father’s law firm. I found this part way more engrossing – it describes the fate of her first love and offers some fascinating insights into Parsi culture and practices that were still around in the 1920s. It’s akin to a family saga, with detailed yet easy descriptions of home life and a sensitive exploration of the fragile and delicate relationships between a new bride and her in-laws.

The mystery isn’t that exciting and the writing is very accessible, but you can tell instantly the author is very talented. She builds the fictional world on a foundation of rich local detail, including a barrage of Indian (mostly Hindi and Gujarati) words, architectural specifics, food, holidays, traditions, modes of communication, etc. 1920s Bombay comes alive in the narrative and it’s a pleasure to explore.

I may be biased though because Mumbai is my all-time favourite city in the whole wide world.


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