“The Widows of Malabar Hill” by Sujata Massey is an interesting historical fiction novel with a murder mystery twist that gets India’s first female lawyer in a host of adventures.
Perveen Mistry again is the only female solicitor in India, working for her father’s law firm in Bombay. Though she’s not allowed to argue in court, she works on contracts. So when a wealthy client’s will comes on her desk with his three widows giving their inheritance to an all-boys school yet to be built, she questions the widows’ decision as well as the man left to be the executor of the will. After talking to the three widows and befriending their children, Perveen gets a bad vibe from executor Faisal Mukri. She’s learned the widows — Sakina, Razia, and Mumtaz — had conflicting assumptions about their inheritances. She leaves the compound on Malabar Hill only to realize her briefcase is missing. Once she turns around to fetch it, she finds Mukri dead from a stab wound.
Shrouded by the murder mystery is Perveen’s past with a troubled marriage. The chapters go back and forth with the past and present, comparing and contrasting Perveen’s situation with her husband to the widows’ situation of living after their husband’s death. Each path unfolds well with the murder being solved and Perveen moving beyond her marriage.
Another interesting aspect is learning about 1920s India. While balancing her career, for example, Perveen is also enjoying her friendship with Alice Hobson-Jones, a British socialite who just moved to India and attended Oxford with Perveen. The British influence is evident with the races of the law enforcement being emphasized because it seems like the British white men held higher positions than the native Indian men. Ethnicity also plays a role with Perveen being Parsi, a Persian Zoroastrian whose family had been in India for generations. The widows are Muslims. Some characters are Hindu. Perveen has to study the different religious laws as well as the country’s general laws.
Overall, it’s a female-empowering historical fiction murder mystery that flows nicely to the end.