Review: The Bombay Prince by Sujata Massey

 

Title: The Bombay Prince {Perveen Mistry #3}

Author: Sujata Massey

Published: 1st June 2021, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read June 2021 courtesy Allen & Unwin

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My Thoughts:

The Bombay Prince is the third book by Sujata Massey to feature Perveen Massey, India’s first female solicitor, working alongside her father, a respected lawyer. It’s not strictly necessary to have read the previous novels, A Murder on Malabar Hill and The Satapur Moonstone, to enjoy this though I believe the experience is better for it.

Taking place in November of 1921, Massey sets the story of The Bombay Prince against the unrest in India between British loyalists and those agitating for India’s independence as Edward VIII, Prince of Wales arrives to tour the sub-continent.

Perveen meets with a young university student worried that if she refuses the school principal’s directive to attend the parade welcoming Prince Edward that she could be expelled. Freny Cuttingmaster is anxious that she not disappoint her parents by jeopardising her education but staunchly opposes British Rule and wants Perveen’s assurance that her future will not be compromised by taking a stand. Perveen isn’t able to provide Freny with a definitive answer, suggesting she return with her college handbook, but she doesn’t see the young woman again until, on the day of the parade, Freny’s body is found in the courtyard of the school.

The Bombay Prince offers a well crafted mystery that plays out against the backdrop of protests which divides the city of Bombay along political and religious lines. Perveen is deeply distressed by the young woman’s death, especially when it becomes clear that Freny didn’t simply fall from the gallery as the scene was staged to suggest. Not able to trust that the death will be properly investigated for a number of reasons, including the college’s wish to avoid scandal, general dismissive attitudes towards women, and the escalating violence related to Prince Edward’s visit, Purveen insinuates herself into the case to ensure the killer is brought to justice. The challenge Purveen faces in navigating these issues is fascinating, probably more so than the mystery itself at times, especially when she is noticed by the men looking for collaborators in a plot to assassinate Prince Edward.

Purveen is a complex character, presenting an uneasy mix of progressive and conservative traits. Though she has defied societal expectations by becoming a solicitor, and in separating from her abusive husband, she is very conscious of the need to behave in ways that protect both her and her family’s reputation, and tends to be braver when acting on behalf of her clients than she is in than her defence of herself. This is particularly evident in her interactions with men, which makes her continued connection with Colin Sandringham, who was her government liaison in The Satapur Moonstone, an intriguing element of the story.

Rich in historical detail and cultural interest, offering a discerning mystery and a hint of romance, The Bombay Prince is an engaging novel, and I hope the series will continue.

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Available from Allen & Unwin RRP AUD$29.99

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Review: The Satapur Moonstone by Sujata Massey

Title: The Satapur Moonstone {Purveen Mistry #2}

Author: Sujata Massey

Published: April 28th 2020, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read May 2020, courtesy Allen & Unwin

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My Thoughts:

As the only female solicitor in India, Purveen Mistry is uniquely placed to arbitrate a dispute between the mother and grandmother of the Satapur crown prince in The Satapur Moonstone, the second book in Sujata Massey’s engaging historical mystery series.

Temporarily acting as an agent of the British Raj, Purveen is tasked with traveling to the remote Satara mountains, southeast of Bombay, to make recommendations for the maharaja-to-be’s educational future. Purveen hopes to broker peace between the Dowager Maharani who insists that her grandson is to be educated within the palace as his brother and father were before him, and the prince’s mother who wants him to be educated in England, but the situation becomes more complicated when Maharani Mirabai confides she is concerned for her son’s safety.

Purveen has a knack for finding herself in the middle of intrigue, and in The Satapur Moonstone she quickly comes to agree that the life of the crown prince is at risk from someone in the palace. The mystery itself works well, and while it does build to an intense conclusion where Purveen finds her own life is at risk, I felt the pacing was off, with a very slow start.

Purveen is definitely out of her comfort zone – in the middle of the jungle, in the company of the local agent, Colin Sandringham, and among the acrimonious atmosphere of the palace – though she generally proves to be as dutiful and capable as ever, and I did think that perhaps at times she made some decisions that weren’t really in character. I found her unexpected connection with Colin to be quite intriguing and I’ll be interested to see if Massey builds on that in subsequent books.

As in A Murder at Malabar Hill, I found the social, political and cultural details of life in 1920’s India fascinating. The setting is a major strength of the novel, with the Satapur palace, made up of old and new and divided between the Maharini’s, reflecting the struggle of India between tradition and modernity, under British rule.

I enjoyed The Satapur Moonstone as much as I did Massey’s first book. Purveen is an appealing character, and the unique period and culture enrich the well-crafted storytelling. I hope the series continues.

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Available from Allen & Unwin RRP AUD$29.99

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository I Indiebound

 

Also reviewed at Book’d Out by Sujata Massey

 

Review: A Murder at Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey

 

Title: A Murder on Malabar Hill {Perveen Mistry #1}

Author: Sujata Massey

Published: January 7th 2020, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read January 2020 courtesy Allen & Unwin

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My Thoughts:

A Murder on Malabar Hill is an engaging historical mystery novel, the first in a new series from Sujata Massey, which has won several awards, most notably the Mary Higgins Clarke Award (2019), and the Agatha Award for the Best Historical Novel (2018) (under the title of The Widows of Malabar Hill).

The series features Perveen Massey, a young woman in her mid twenties who is India’s first female solicitor, working alongside her father, a respected lawyer. Massey draws inspiration for her lead character from two ‘real life’ women, Cornelia Sorabji of Poona who was the first woman to read law at Oxford and sit the British law exam in 1892, and Mithan Tata Lam of Bombay, who was the first woman admitted to the Bombay Bar in 1923.

The story shifts between two timelines, one of which fleshes out Perveen’s personal history, from her family background, to her experiences at Oxford University, to her short-lived marriage.

The second timeline focuses on the murder at Malabar Hill, an upscale neighbourhood in Bombay, in the household of three Purdahnashin widows. When their wealthy husband, Omar Farid, dies, his wives, Razia, Sakina, and Mumtaz, and their children who choose to live a secluded life (known as Purdah), are at the mercy of their household agent, Mr. Mukri. While finalising Farid’s estate Perveen notices some discrepancies and as a female solicitor she is uniquely placed to speak to the widows directly to discover what they understand of their rights. Immediately following her first visit, which infuriates Mukri, the agent is murdered, and Perveen fears the women could be next. I enjoyed the mystery, which has a cozy feel and a ‘locked room’ aspect, though it wasn’t terribly difficult to solve.

The physical setting of A Murder in Malabar Hill – primarily the wealthy neighbourhoods of Bombay in the 1920’s – is interesting, but it was what I learned about the city’s social, political and cultural milieu I found fascinating. Massey touches on a number of issues such as the varied religious beliefs within Indian society, including Parsi (Zoroastrianism), Muslim, and Hindi; the rights, or lack thereof, of women; and the conflict surrounding English rule, as well as specific cultural practices such as arranged marriages, dowry contracts, and Purdah. The details seem authentic and are woven neatly into the plot.

Well crafted and appealing, highlighting an interesting historical period and an exotic (to me) culture, A Murder at Malabar Hill is an enjoyable mystery novel, and I look forward to reading the next.

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Available from Allen & Unwin RRP AUD $29.99

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository I Indiebound

 

US Cover