Is it already seven o’clock? I’ve hardly slept! I was up too late drinking coffee and talking politics with Pappa yesterday evening. The Britishers have put Gandhiji in prison again, and Pappa doesn’t know if it’s wise to add his name to the list of lawyers decrying the action. I argued with him for far too long, and now I only have thirty minutes for bath, dressing and breakfast. I must be organized. Pappa’s firm about us getting into the heart of Bombay by eight. He’s arguing a case at the High Court and I must open Mistry Law.
Sorry, I forgot to introduce myself. My name is Perveen Mistry. You might have heard that I’m Bombay’s first woman lawyer. My father was the only solicitor in all of India who would hire a female. And while many think he’s patronized me, the fact is I’ve almost doubled his revenues from 1920, although many of the old, conservative clients believe he’s the one drafting their contracts.
Contracts might seem boring on the outset, but they can lead to some rather remarkable adventures. Just recently I was working on the estate settlement for three widows—yes, they were all married to the same gentleman, a wealthy mill owner in Malabar Hill. If I hadn’t closely read their marriage contracts, they could have lost their financial assets. It turned out to be so much more, with the involvement of children, a secret love affair, and even murder. I wish I could tell you more, but I must protect my clients’ confidentiality!
I must apologize for the squawking racket coming from the balcony. That is Lillian, my pet parrot. She lives in a pretty cage and is allowed to fly out to the garden, but she’s too lazy to get her own breakfast. I’ve pointed where the mango tree is; but she only wants to eat her mangoes cut up in small squares.
There are too many women I know living in gilded cages just like Lillian. Whether English or Indian, they stay home and get everything handed to them on a silver tray. And of course, they obey their husbands and in-laws without question! I’ll daresay that whilst I’ve made some impulsive personal choices and had some very difficult times, living away from my parents made me who I am.
But I know that if I want to practice law, I must continue to get along with my father. And most of the time, he’s jolly good company. Except now—you hear the swearing, don’t you? It must be that he’s looking for his briefcase.
I think he left it on the dining table. I’ll fetch it for him. Must dash!
You can read more about Perveen in The Widows of Malabar Hill, the first book in the NEW “Perveen Mistry” mystery series.
1920s India: Perveen Mistry, Bombay’s first female lawyer, is investigating a suspicious will on behalf of three Muslim widows living in full purdah when the case takes a turn toward the murderous. The author of the Agatha and Macavity Award-winning Rei Shimura novels brings us an atmospheric new historical mystery with a captivating heroine.
Inspired in part by the woman who made history as India’s first female attorney, The Widows of Malabar Hill is a richly wrought story of multicultural 1920s Bombay as well as the debut of a sharp and promising new sleuth.
Perveen Mistry, the daughter of a respected Zoroastrian family, has just joined her father’s law firm, becoming one of the first female lawyers in India. Armed with a legal education from Oxford, Perveen also has a tragic personal history that makes women’s legal rights especially important to her.
Mistry Law has been appointed to execute the will of Mr. Omar Farid, a wealthy Muslim mill owner who has left three widows behind. But as Perveen examines the paperwork, she notices something strange: all three of the wives have signed over their full inheritance to a charity. What will they live on? Perveen is suspicious, especially since one of the widows has signed her form with an X—meaning she probably couldn’t even read the document. The Farid widows live in full purdah—in strict seclusion, never leaving the women’s quarters or speaking to any men. Are they being taken advantage of by an unscrupulous guardian? Perveen tries to investigate, and realizes her instincts were correct when tensions escalate to murder. Now it is her responsibility to figure out what really happened on Malabar Hill, and to ensure that no innocent women or children are in further danger.
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Meet the author
Sujata Massey is the author of 13 novels and numerous stories. She won an Agatha and Macavity and garnered Edgar, Anthony and Mary Higgins Clark nominations for her first mystery series featuring Japanese-American Rei Shimura. She’s branched out to writing about early 20th century India with the 2013 novel, The Sleeping Dictionary, and The Widows of Malabar Hill (January 2018). Sujata lives in Baltimore where, if not writing, you’ll see her walking two dogs, or driving carpool, or trying to dig in a few plants.
For more information about Sujata, visit sujatamassey.com.
All comments are welcomed.