The Widows of Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey is exactly the type of cosy crime I enjoy reading on a cold, rainy wintery weekend.
Much like the UK series about Maisie Dobbs and the Australian series by Kerry Greenwood about Phryne Fisher, Massey has created the Indian version of these smart, pioneering 1920’s women who have the ability to be in the right place at the right time to solve crimes.
Sujata was born in England to parents from India and Germany. She now lives in the US, which may explain why I often felt that the Indian nature of the story was technically correct and well researched, but didn’t always feel authentic. I spent most of the book feeling like a tourist, on the outside looking in. I will be curious to hear how one of my fellow book clubbers felt about this though, as she actually grew up living on Malabar Hill in the 1960’s.
At times, I had a few quibbles with the ‘show don’t tell’ aspect of Massey’s writing and I didn’t always feel like I was in 1920’s India. Sometimes the dialogue felt awkward and stilted as well. It may have been an accurate reflection of the self-conscious, uneasy tensions that exist when two different classes try to communicate but I’m not sure that’s where the problem lay.
However, I cannot deny, that as an easy to read, cosy crime story, The Widows of Malabar Hill was a winner. It has a likeable protagonist in Perveen Mistry and an exotic setting. Being based on versions of a true story gives the book another tick in its favour.
Mistry’s backstory was interesting, but at times felt contrived. Perhaps it was all the ‘telling’ going on rather than showing, revealing and letting the reader get there themselves. Certainly the reader doesn’t have to do anything other than just read, Massey does all the work. Despite all the descriptions, I have no residual visual image of the characters or the place. The historical element also felt rather loose. I had to keep reminding myself it was meant to be the 1920’s.
I obviously had some technical issues with the writing, but ultimately I enjoyed the story and will probably read the sequel The Satapur Moonstone at some point. You may be surprised to hear that, after all the issues I had with this book, but sometimes a book is just for reading. And sometimes a book leaves you with enough of a warm glow, to make a dreary wintery weekend a little brighter.
Favourite or Forget: I suspect this will fade from my memory fairly quickly.
My edition comes with a few recipes (of meals eaten throughout the book) at the back. I’m keen to try the Malabar Spinach and Eggs one day.
Preparation Time: 20 minutes
Cooking Time: 10 minutes
Serves: 2 as breakfast or 4 as part of a dinner
Here’s a moderately spicy recipe that is a Parsi classic. Malabar spinach, also known as water spinach or poisaag, can be found at Asian grocers and farmer’s markets. Large leaf spinach or swiss chard is a good substitute. You’ll need a wide frying pan with a lid to prepare this dish.
- 2 tablespoons canola, safflower or sunflower oil
- 1/2 cup chopped onion
- 4 curry leaves (optional)
- 2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
- 1 minced garlic clove
- 5 diced Roma tomatoes, or one large tomato
- 3 tablespoons chopped fresh coriander
- 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
- 1/4 teaspoon chilli powder
- 1 bunch of Malabar spinach, or substitute greens
- salt to taste
- 4 eggs
- Heat oil in a wide, deep skillet over medium-low heat. Add onion and optional curry leaves and sauté until onion is translucent.
- Add the ginger, garlic, tomatoes, coriander, turmeric, and chilli powder. After the tomatoes are broken down, about two minutes, add the spinach and a few tablespoons of water. Cover with lid and cook for 5 to 7 minutes over low heat, until the spinach is soft. Add salt to taste.
- Use a large spoon to make 4 depressions in the soft cooked greens. Break an egg over each of these depressions.
- Cover the pan again. If the lid has a curve on its underside, invert the lid and pour a couple of teaspoons of water into the curve. This addition of water heightens the steaming effect as the eggs poach under the lid. Remember to keep the temperature very low.
- Peek at the eggs after 3 minutes, and if they are almost set, serve.
- Cornelia Sorabji was the real life inspiration for Perveen Mistry
- Winner of the Agatha Award
- Winner Mary Higgins Clark Award
- Winner Lefty Award for Best Historical Mystery
- Nominated for the Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction
Weekend Cooking with Beth Fish Reads