It is no secret that I love reading murder mysteries and that Dame Agatha Christie is my favorite author in the genre. Last week, as I was picking up a book of Sophie Hannah in the Agatha Christie series, my librarian recommended to me this book – A Murder on Malabar Hill. The synopsis of the book was quite intriguing and I didn’t hesitate to borrow the book.
Written by Sujata Massey, an Indo-German, A Murder on Malabar Hill rolls in Mumbai in 1921 pre-Independent India. Parveen Mistry, a young and intelligent Zoroastrian, joins her father’s prestigious law firm to become one of India’s first female lawyers.
In her very first case, she is appointed to execute the will of Omar Farid, a wealthy mill owner who dies intestate leaving behind three widows and four kids. He also appoints a guardian/caretaker for his estate, mill and family. Parveen’s suspicions are aroused by the anomaly in the will and she is suspicious of the guardian of duping the unworldly wise widows who live in a strict seclusion, never leaving the women’s quarters or speaking to men, until she finds him murdered in his own house.
Who killed him? One of the widows of Omar Farid, one of the servants or someone from the outside? Parveen makes it her business to find out in order to protect the family of Omar Farid.
I like this book on various levels.
Firstly, I fell in love with the protagonist. Parveen Mistry is a feisty young woman who though is bound by the strict rules of society in early 20th century doesn’t give it up easily without a fight. As per the author, Parveen’s character was inspired by India’s earliest women lawyers, Cornelia Sorabji of Poona, the first woman to read law at Oxford and the first woman to sit the British law exam and to be admitted to the Bombay Bar.
Parveen has a disturbing past, but she rises above it, owns up her mistakes and moves on. Also, the author has dealt with the subject of Parveen’s tumultuous past with great sensitivity and respect.
I didn’t know about Purdanashins, the females of the Muslim community who choose to stay in seclusion all their life in zenanas (female rooms) and not to interact with men, except their husbands and sons. The book throws light on them and gives a good insight into their family structure and mental make-up of such women. The book talks not only about the women in seclusion in the Muslim community, but also some of the sordid practices of orthodox Parsi families.
Sujata Massey paints a nostalgic picture of Mumbai of a 100 years ago. The pretty sprawling Anglo-Indian bungalows on Malabar Hill, the Queen’s Necklace, Zaveri Bazaar, Dadar Parsi Colony and the jewel of Colaba – The Taj Mahal Palace. The tongas and man-pulled rickshaws, the stevedores at the Ballard Pier and Irani bakeries like Yazdani serving melt-in-your-mouth Irani confectionery all add to the old-world charm of this majestic city. Mumbai would not have been Mumbai without the generous contribution of the Zoroastrian community, and this book gives a just ode to them.
There are a few nail-biting moments in the book, however, for a murder mystery, I would have expected some more. The mystery was not mysterious enough and even I could see through the killer (I have never been able to crack the murderer in Agatha Christie’s books). So, yes, that was a bit disappointing there, however, the motive for murder was intelligent enough.
The book is more than just a murder mystery, but an introduction to the social life of elite Mumbai in the early 1900s and the stand of women in the society. The book is well researched and the characters are complex and believable.
If you are looking for a finely detailed and tightly woven crime novel like Agatha Christie’s, then you might be disappointed in this book, but if you are looking for an engaging and cozy read with one of its aspects being a murder mystery, you will definitely like this book.
I definitely would want to read all future offerings of Parveen Mistry Investigates.
I am taking part in the Write Tribe Reading Challenge and I have opted to read 24 books this year (though I am hoping to read more). There are 24 prompts given, and this book adheres to three of them:
2. A book written by a Female author
16. A book on crime-solving
23. A book you bought just because of its cover/a book with a beautiful cover