The Widows of Malabar Hill [Book Review]

July 20, 2018

Perveen Mistry and a challenging case…

***This post contains Amazon affiliate links.

The Widows of Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey

The Widows of Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey (cover) Image: a young woman in Indian dress and holding a brief case stands in front of a gated archway

Genre/categories: Historical Fiction, Mystery, Detective, Bombay, Women’s Rights


In this culturally rich, mystery set in 1920s Bombay, India, Preveen Mistry, the daughter of a respected family, joins her father’s law firm, becoming one of the first female lawyers in India. Educated at Oxford, Perveen has a tragic personal history that causes her to be extra vigilant on her new case so that the widows of Malabar Hill are treated fairly after the death of their husband.  As she examines the paperwork, she discovers that the widows who are living in purdah (strict seclusion) have signed over their inheritance to a charity, raising suspicions that they’re being taken advantage of by their guardian. Tensions build and a murder occurs. Because the widows feel uncomfortable speaking with male investigators, Perveen takes responsibility and great personal risk to determine what really happened on Malabar Hill. Throughout the story, readers are also filled in on Perveen’s back story as readers are introduced to her family and friends and learn about her education.

Amazon Early Rating (July): 4.5 Stars

My Thoughts:

What I liked:

  • Diversity: I love reading stories from other cultures, and the setting of 1920s Bombay, India is vastly different from my own experiences. In addition, I gained more understanding and awareness of women who live in Purdah.
  • A woman and her dream: Perveen’s professional goal is to work as a lawyer, and although she is allowed to work as a solicitor in her father’s law office she is not allowed to present in court. This part of the story is historical fiction and based on the real experiences of the first woman to practice law in Bombay, India. In the investigation of the Malabar Hill murder, Perveen can speak directly to the widows who live in Purdah more effectively than the male investigators on the case. Because of her past, she’s passionate about protecting the rights of women and children and is determined to help the widows of Malabar Hill, putting her own life at risk in the process.
  • The protagonist: Perveen, an ambitious woman who courageously works toward paving the way for women in the legal profession, is feisty, smart, independent, determined, brave, thoughtful, resourceful, and respectful of her culture. I adore the character of Perveen and rooted for her to solve the murder and to protect the widows’ rights. Furthermore, she is an encouragement for women who are not willing to accept an abusive relationship (not even one time).
  • Father/daughter relationship: This is one of my favorite parts of the story! Perveen has an excellent, trusting, and loving relationship with her father (and her mother). I appreciate reading about great fathers in literature, and it was especially pleasing that the author chose to include him in the context of this male dominated culture.  He respects her person hood and as a solicitor in his practice; he supports and believes in her. At the same time he helps Perveen accomplish her goals, he is also able to respect their culture and operate within cultural and religious expectations. As well as being brilliant in her defense when she seeks a divorce, her father respects her views and passions. He is her biggest cheerleader.
  • Culture: The author creates wonderful visual images of the culture in 1920s Bombay, India, from food to religious groups to family traditions to descriptions of the city itself….so much to enjoy and learn!
  • Favorite Quote:

“The boundaries communities drew around themselves seemed to narrow their lives–whether it was women and men, Hindus and Muslims, or Parsis and everyone else.”

What I Wish:

Although I enjoyed almost all aspects of The Widows of Malabar Hill, there is one element that affected my rating:

  • Slow buildup: The mystery in the story appears at about the 50% mark, and the pace of the story picks up at about the 75% point. It’s categorized as a mystery, so I waited somewhat impatiently. even though I wished for a beginning that dropped you into the middle of the story, the character development, the relationships, and setting descriptions help keep the reader engaged during the early part of the story. Despite the slow build up, I wanted to stick with the story because of the uniqueness and because of some high reviews it has received from trusted reviewers. Some readers who love the story were not affected by the slow build up. Elements like that are certainly subjective. It’s a story I’m glad I read even though the mystery was a small part of the multi-faceted story and the beginning was slow-paced. It’s still a solid read.

My Rating: 3.5 stars (rounded up to 4 stars on Goodreads).

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The Widows of Malabar Hill is recommended for readers who love historical fiction, for those who appreciate a strong, determined, independent, clever, and ambitious female protagonist, for readers who want to immerse themselves in a different culture and expand the diversity of their reading, and for fans of a little mystery and intrigue. Although this is the first book in a series, it can be read and enjoyed as a stand alone.

the widows of malabar hill

The Widows of Malabar Hill Information Here

Meet the Author, Sujata Massey

sujata masseySujata Massey is an award-winning author of historical and mystery fiction set in Asia.
However, her personal story begins in England, where she was born to parents from India and Germany who began reading to her shortly after her birth. Sujata kept on reading as she grew up mostly in the United States (California, Pennsylvania and Minnesota) and earned her BA from the Johns Hopkins University’s Writing Seminars program. Her first job was as a reporter at the Baltimore Evening Sun newspaper, where she wrote stories about fashion, food and culture. Although she loved her work, she left when she got married to a young naval officer posted to Japan.

Sujata and her husband lived in the Tokyo-Yokohama area which forms most of the settings of her Rei Shimura mysteries. The eleven novel series has collected many mystery award nominations, including the Edgar, Anthony, and Mary Higgins Clark awards, and even won a few: the Agatha and Macavity prizes for traditional mystery fiction. The Rei Shimura mysteries are published in 18 countries. The first book in the series is THE SALARYMAN’S WIFE, and the eleventh is THE KIZUNA COAST which was listed as the most-borrowed ebook is the Self-E Library reads borrowing program for 2016. Rei Shimura mystery short stories are in MURDER MOST CRAFTY, MALICE DOMESTIC 10, AND MURDER MOST CRAFTY.

In 2013, Sujata began writing about India. THE SLEEPING DICTiONARY is a historic espionage novel set in 1930s-40s Calcutta told from a young Bengali woman’s point of view. It’s also out as a Dreamworks audiobook, and is published in India, Italy and Turkey under different titles. This was followed by INDIA GRAY HISTORIC FICTION, an ebook and paperback collection of stories and novellas featuring strong Asian women heroines throughout history. Included is a story featuring Kamala from THE SLEEPING DICTIONARY and a prequel novelette featuring Perveen Mistry. A Perveen story is included in THE USUAL SANTAS, a story anthology to be published in October 2017.


Do you enjoy or seek out diverse reads?

Have you read The Widows of Malabar Hill or is it on your TBR?

Happy Reading Bookworms!

“Ah, how good it is to be among people who are reading.”
~Rainer Maria Rilke

“I love the world of words, where life and literature connect.”
~Denise J Hughes

“Reading good books ruins you for enjoying bad ones.”
~Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

“I read because books are a form of transportation, of teaching, and of connection!
Books take us to places we’ve never been, they teach us about our world, and they help us to understand human experience.”
~Madeleine Riley, Top Shelf Text

My Summer TBR

I’ll be updating my Summer TBR list as I complete each read, so check this link often!
(So far I’ve read about half of the list, some I’ve been more thrilled with than others, and I’ve only abandoned one)

Looking Ahead:

 I look forward to providing a July wrap up, choosing the most compelling character from July reading, and also anticipating my first blogiversary with a give away (next Friday). My next read will be An American Marriage (I’ve read mixed reviews of this Oprah Book Club selection so we’ll see how it goes).

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Unless explicitly stated that they are free, all books that I review have been purchased by me or borrowed from the library.

The book cover and author photos are credited to Amazon or an author’s (or publisher’s) website.



  1. Sounds intriguing Carol– I’ve always love books set in India or with Indian characters. Read all of Jumpa Lahiri’s books and really loved Sister of my Heart by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. Love how complete your reviews are without giving away the important twists and turns. How’s your summer going?? We just landed in Wisconsin fo a week with our daughter! Happy Reading!! xox

    • Thanks for your recs! Have fun vacationing with your family! Hope the weather is good and that you have something great to read.

      • Hey Carol– yep, picked up 84 Charing Cross
        Road to read on the plane here. Classic book lovers story (now I want to see the movie!). xox

      • I’ve had that at the top of my list for a long time! It’s not available digitally so that’s hugely inconvenient.

      • Yep, I had to order it from the library system and wait a few days. It’s short– but lively and fun. Makes you want to own a British book shop. xox

  2. That is one weakness I think. 60% women’s fiction/family drama and 40% mystery. But it sure is interesting. I wonder if the second in the series is more mystery now that the character is established?

  3. […] “The Widows of Malabar Hill is recommended for readers who love historical fiction, for those who appreciate a strong, determined, independent, clever, and ambitious female protagonist, for readers who want to immerse themselves in a different culture and expand the diversity of their reading, and for fans of a little mystery and intrigue.” — Reading Ladies Book Club […]

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