Book Review: The Satapur Moonstone by Sujata Massey @sujatamassey @soho_press

The Satapur Moonstone
A mystery of 1920s India
A Perveen Mistry Novel, Book 2
Sujata Massey
Soho Crime, May 2019
ISBN 978-1-61695-909-8
Hardcover

Lawyer Perveen Mistry, Esquire, an employee of the British Raj, has been sent from Bombay to the princely state of Satapur to settle a dispute over the education of the ruling family’s children. The male succession line has been interrupted by the deaths of both the maharaja and his eldest heir and now the dowager maharani, (grandmother) and the younger maharani (the mother) can’t agree. But just how intense is their disagreement? This is what Perveen, India’s only female lawyer, must discover. She is the only one who can negotiate as the two maharanis live in purdah.

When Perveen arrives, she finds turmoil and even fear as the dowager maharani has assumed all power. But is she also a murderess? From the oddities surrounding the young maharaja’s death, supposedly killed by a tiger, Perveen’s suspicion grows. As she guards the young crown prince’s life, she’s on the edge of death herself as someone makes repeated attempts on her life and on the young prince’s.

The rather slow pacing in the beginning will fool you into thinking there’s no action, but as the pomp and ceremony of the state unfolds, you’ll find something different. Jealousies large and small, the wielding of power, the strictness of the caste system become intense. The character of the countryside is fascinating, as is the political aspect of the British Raj. Then there is the matter of women’s place in this closed world, and Perveen’s growing response to the white British agent Colin Sandringham. As events wind down to an exciting conclusion, you’re sure to be riveted.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, July 2019.
https://carolcriggercom.sitelio.me/
Author of Five Days, Five Dead, Hereafter and Hometown Homicide.

Book Review: The Widows of Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey—and a Giveaway!

The Widows of Malabar Hill
A Mystery of 1920s Bombay #1
Sujata Massey
Soho Press, January 2018
ISBN 978-1-61695-778-0
Hardcover

Summary: Perveen Mistry, while assisting her father with an estate case, uncovers family secrets and deceit among the household of wives and children left behind after the patriarch’s death. Her English friend from school assists with her investigation.

The Widows of Malabar Hill begins what will hopefully be a long series with Perveen Mistry as the protagonist. Perveen is an Oxford educated lawyer working with her father in his law practice in the 1920s in Bombay, India. While at that time women could not be admitted to the bar and therefore could not represent clients in court, Perveen was able to perform much of the paper work of the law practice from writing wills to helping clients understand their legal positions. As the book opens, that is where readers find Perveen. Her father is the executor of a recently deceased mill owner who leaves behind three widows and a number of children. The person acting as their guardian has presented a document signed by the three widows stating they wish to forgo their rightful inheritance and turn their dowry gifts over to the trust which the guardian controls. There are two concerns with the document.  First there is some question regarding the signatures and secondly, the document also changes the focus of the trust’s mission, something that cannot so easily be done.

Because the women follow the custom of purdah (complete separation of the sexes), Perveen’s father would not be able to meet with the women, but Perveen can. Perveen goes to the widows’ home to speak with each of the women separately to have them each sign an individual agreement  but also to make sure the women understand exactly what they have agreed to give up and what the stated new mission of the trust is to be. While she is visiting with the second widow, the  guardian returns, overhears what she is saying and orders her to leave. Later she realizes she has left her briefcase and returns to retrieve it only to find the guardian has been murdered. What follows is an excellent murder mystery in which Perveen enlists her English friend from Oxford now living in Bombay to assist her.

There are so many things to love about this book beyond the murder mystery.

Besides the obvious crime to be solved, there is another entire story told throughout the book involving Perveen’s earlier marriage to a handsome businessman from Calcutta. Shifting back and forth from 1916 and 1917 to the story’s present day 1920s, we learn the details of how the couple met, married and why the marriage fell apart. Through this we also have a mini look into the marriage customs of India at that time, some extreme as well as some even then archaic practices.

The historical details the author has included really puts the reader in the 1920s in Bombay. The jumble of the various religious and cultural entities that somehow manage to co-exist is interesting and quite impressive.  Many cultural traditions are included and explained through actions giving readers a sense of being there rather than lectured to.

Included at the end of the book are some historical notes from the author. I would recommend reading those before reading the book. The notes really set the stage for the book.

This was the first book  I read in 2018 and a book I was sorry to see it end. What a great way to start the year.

Reviewed by guest reviewer Caryn St. Clair, January 2018.

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To enter the drawing for a hardcover
copy of The Widows of Malabar Hill
by Sujata Massey, leave a comment
below. The winning name will be
drawn Thursday evening, June 21st.
This drawing is open to
residents of the US and Canada.

Book Review: Teetotaled by Maia Chance—and a Giveaway!

teetotaledTeetotaled
Discreet Retrieval Agency Mysteries #2
Maia Chance
Minotaur Books, October 2016
ISBN 978-1-250-072214
Hardcover

From the publisher—

After her philandering husband died and left her penniless in Prohibition-era New York, Lola Woodby escaped with her Swedish cook to the only place she could―her deceased husband’s secret love nest in the middle of Manhattan. Her only comforts were chocolate cake, dime store detective novels, and the occasional highball (okay, maybe not so occasional). But rent came due and Lola and Berta were forced to accept the first job that came their way, leading them to set up shop as private detectives operating out of Alfie’s cramped love nest.

Now Lola and Berta are in danger of losing the business they’ve barely gotten off the ground―work is sparse and money is running out. So when a society matron offers them a job, they take it―even if it means sneaking into a slimming and exercise facility and consuming only water and health food until they can steal a diary from Grace Whiddle, a resident at the “health farm.” But barely a day in, Grace and her diary escape from the facility―and Grace’s future mother-in-law is found murdered on the premises. Lola and Berta are promptly fired. But before they can climb into Lola’s brown and white Duesenberg Model A and whiz off the health farm property, they find themselves with a new client and a new charge: to solve the murder of Grace’s future mother-in-law.

I’m not a strong fan of fiction set in the Roaring Twenties but, every now and then, I come across an author who just does it right, if you know what I mean. I had “met” Maia Chance before with a very different series and knew from that one that I would almost certainly love this book (I haven’t read the first one) and indeed I do.

While Lola does indulge in a bit of wallowing in self-pity—who wouldn’t, considering the circumstances?—she’s a woman who’s not afraid to step out of her society comfort zone when it becomes obvious she needs to make a living. With one sleuthing case under their belts, Lola and Berta have enough confidence to take on a second retrieval which is a good thing if they want to pay the rent and have a cocktail or two, not to mention fulfill Lola’s craving for sweets. Unfortunately for a mother-in-law-to-be, that retrieval turns into a murder investigation and Lola and Berta may or may not be up to the job.

These two very different ladies are a hoot and, as often as not, they come across clues because they sort of stumble their way there, not because they’re really good at what they do (although it must be noted that Berta is probably the more intelligent of the duo). There’s a lot of humor here but also a darned good cozy mystery, one that kept me entertained from beginning to end.

Although there’s a vast difference in wealth, readers who are drawn to Kerry Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher and her faithful companion, Dot, will also love Lola and Berta and enjoy the heck out of their adventures. Maia Chance has a fine touch and creates characters and plots filled with humor and more than a bit of pizazz; I am most certainly a fan of Lola and Berta 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, October 2016.

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Lola and Berta may not be Holmes and Watson,
but their deficits in experience and talent are balanced
by determination and an abundance of action.
P.G. Wodehouse fans will find a lot to like.
—Publishers Weekly

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To enter the drawing for a print
copy of Teetotaled
by Maia Chance,
just leave a comment below. The
winning
name will be drawn on Friday

night, October 7th. This drawing is open
to residents of the US and Canada.