The Widows of Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey
Historical mysteries are my very favorite genre of books to read, and this new one by Massey is a fantastic addition to the genre. Perveen is the first woman allowed to study law in India in the early 20th century, but bullying by her classmates leads her to withdraw. She can't bring herself to tell her parents that she's quit, so she keeps going out every day. She meets and falls in love with a young man visiting from another city while she's out and together they convince their parents that they should be allowed to wed instead of going for an arranged marriage as is usual in their culture.
At first their marriage is everything Perveen has dreamed of, but her mother in law enforces seclusion during menstruation and within a few months Perveen is wracked with anxiety about being sequestered alone in the spare, unhygienic room. Then she stumbles upon her husband in the throes of an affair and soon finds out that his affair has given her an STD. She flees back to her parents, and after recovering, attends law school in England, then returns to join her father in his law practice in Bombay.
Perveen is uniquely placed to be able to access and help three women, widows of a Muslim man, who are living in purdah, sequestered after his death, forbidden to interact with men for months on end. What starts out as a simple will probate becomes something much deeper as a man is murdered in their home and Perveen is now not only their attorney but also an investigator.
This novel was a completely enjoyable read- Perveen is a well-crafted, intelligent, engaging character. I loved the exploration of the cultural aspects and I learned new things about the Parsi people and Muslim purdah. The backstory was adequate and interesting and I was glad that it was there as the story moved along. The murder mystery was well-constructed and the pacing of the solving of the crime was perfect. A rousing double thumbs up from me and I can't wait to read more from Massey as I've heard that further mysteries featuring Perveen are in the works- yay!